By James Dundas, IPSA Memorial Committee Chair
Duty. Honor. Courage. Noble words to live and serve by. The epitome of those words was sadly reinforced recently as the public safety community of practice lost seven brave souls in the line of duty. In the one week from March 21 to March 28, 2018, the United States has averaged the loss one first responder per day.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018: Police Officer Andres Laza-Caraballo (age 31) of the Juncos Municipal Police Department in Puerto Rico was shot while off duty when attempting to intercede in a violent incident. Officer Laza-Caraballo confronted armed men when they entered a barber shop and began firing. Officer Laza-Caraballo was fatally wounded. He was a 10-year veteran of the department. He leaves behind two children.
Thursday, March 22, 2018: FDNY Firefighter Michael Davidson (age 37), a 15-year veteran, husband and father of four girls, died in a fire on a movie set in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem. Part of an interior attack crew, FF Davidson became separated from the others when an evacuation was called. Search teams were quickly assembled and re-entered the building in a desperate attempt to locate FF Davidson. When found, FF Davidson was unconscious. He was transported to Harlem Hospital where he died.
Also on Thursday, March 22, 2018, in York City, Pennsylvania, FF Ivan Flanscha (age 50) and FF Zachary Anthony (age 29) perished in a huge multiple alarm fire in the former Weaver Organ and Piano Warehouse. FF’s Flanscha and Anthony were part of an interior crew dousing hot spots when a part of the structure collapsed, entrapping them and other members. The York City Technical Rescue team was brought in to lead the search, but unfortunately, both Flanscha and Anthony did not survive. Two others, Assistant Chief Greg Altland and FF Erik Swanson received serious, but not expected to be life threatening injuries.
In what is becoming a more frequent and tragic consequence of exposure to hazardous substances, Special Agent Melissa Morrow (age 48) of the FBI succumbed to brain cancer on March 22, 2018, because of her search and recovery work at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. She worked 10 weeks on site, and like many first responders, fell from continuous, long-term exposure to toxins. She is survived by her parents and one sister.
Friday, March 23, 2018: The Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management reported that FF Larry Marusik of the Ellinger Volunteer Fire Department succumbed to critical burn injuries sustained on March 10 while fighting a large wildland fire. He had been under treatment at the Brook Army Medical Center.
Saturday, March 24, 2018: We saw the deaths of two Pratt, West Virginia, volunteer firefighters who died in a crash of their apparatus when responding to a severe multi-fatality traffic accident. Preliminary reports show that their rig left the roadway and crashed into a rock wall. Three other firefighters were injured, one critically.
While it is premature to speculate on causal factors of these tragedies this past week, there are some practices that the public safety community may acknowledge that may help prevent a future tragedy from occurring. These recommendations were pulled from the IPSA’s 2017 LODD Report:
- Improve situational awareness. The key is situational awareness and the responder wearing the proper protective gear for the environment where he or she is responding. Situational awareness is enhanced when 9-1-1 dispatchers inquire about the circumstances and environment and report their findings to responding units.
- Implement practices to reduce contamination. All agencies should assess their risks based upon their unique response profile and adopt policies that reduce the risk of contamination. This would include the adoption of operational practices such as mandatory post-fire decontamination, cleansing of PPE, carrying contaminated PPE in sealed bags and assessing personnel for exposure.
- Always wear a seatbelt. Empirical research shows that wearing a seatbelt will save lives. First responders need to buckle up, despite any temporary discomfort duty gear may impose.
- Enhance body armor by decreasing its weight and increasing flexibility, provide for more coverage, and enhance it ballistics, shielding capabilities. Body armor should protect vital areas against any form of penetration, whether a projectile from a firearm or a penetrating object intended to stab the officer. A proposed revision of NIJ Standard 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor is open for comment through May 23, 2018.
- Increase firearms training. Law enforcement officers are required to undergo a certain number of hours of firearms training. Unfortunately, the time allotted for training is generally very limited and does not correlate to the volume of gun violence in the U.S. Departments need to review their training hours and add training hours to keep their officers safe.
IPSA's Report about 2017 Line of Duty Deaths
Join the IPSA’s Memorial Committee