Having spent the past 37 years providing fire and EMS services to communities in urban, suburban, and rural environments I have personally witnessed the tragedy and suffering that comes to families, communities, and first responders following fatal fire incidents as both a firefighter and Fire Chief. From a firefighters standpoint carrying the lifeless body of a person out of a building is something that will be indelibly etched into an individual’s identity for the rest of their lives. Yes, many people will say that’s what the job entails and the firefighters knew exactly what the hazards and potential related afflictions were when they signed up. However, while there is some validity to that opinion I can personally articulate the fact that it does not make it any easier when an event of this nature occurs. It is affixed to your character forever and it is not pleasant.
From another more global view as your Fire Chief in Brewster I can attest to the fact that myself, my peers in Barnstable County, and Fire Chiefs across the country are trained to proactively evaluate their individual Towns fire risk and develop and implement programs designed to reduce fire occurrences and losses in their communities. Typically this is accomplished through partnership based community programs that encompass and focus on the core fire service deliverables of life safety and property conservation. One major problem that arises is that no matter how well these programs are designed and communicated to the community a huge responsibility to ensuring their success falls on the individual occupants of each dwelling and their attitude toward preserving their own life safety.
An extremely popular and accurate fire service term used in many applications in our business is “complacency kills” Firefighters know this to be true because many of the approximately one hundred annual firefighter fatalities that occur in the United States when investigated involve some type of complacency and lack of situational awareness on the individual member. Sadly, in my experience I have also found this term to be one of the more predominant reasons community fire risk reduction efforts fall short of their intended goals. Occupants of dwellings become complacent to the potential fire hazards that exist within the very spaces they occupy and then fail to implement simple proactive measures such as ensuring working smoke detectors are present on each level of their home. In essence the theory of “it won’t happen to me” becomes the norm until such time a tragedy occurs and the community becomes immediately stimulated to the issue until time passes and residents once again bury their heads in the sand.
Since January 1, fifteen Massachusetts residents have been killed in residential fires including one resident of Chatham. In total, 779 individuals across the United States have been killed during the same time period including 226 deaths that occurred during 89 multiple fatality fires including last week’s fire in Brooklyn, NY that claimed the lives of seven children and critically injured another sibling and the children’s mother who jumped from second floor windows prior to the arrival of fire department units. This tragic fire, like several others across the country where working smoke detectors were not present in the effected occupancies have taken the lives of 38 individuals including a large number of innocent children who assumed when they were brought into this world that their parents would safeguard them from the many uncontrollable dangers they face on a daily basis including those involving fire.
After many years of service and witnessing numerous tragedies of this nature the fire in Brooklyn in which seven helpless children were killed and numerous lives changed forever prompted me to write this opinion. There is a simple, yet powerful message for each reader to take away from this piece and it is a phrase that your local fire department has delivered time and time again, “Smoke Detectors Save Lives”. The real question is, are you listening? If so, take action. Do whatever it takes to make your family and home safe. Don’t become a statistic.
Our organization understands that it is our responsibility to provide you, our stakeholders with partnership based programs and inspection services designed to reduce our community’s overall fire risk. While we do believe we successfully accomplish this goal our members also acknowledge that nothing is perfect so we are continually reviewing methods to improve our efforts in this area. However, in reality no matter how successful we are it is also incumbent that each resident assume a certain level of responsibility of becoming more aware of the available programs, the risks associated with fire, and their own individual need to take proactive action toward ensuring their home and family remain fire safe.
If you are a Brewster resident and your home is not protected by a working smoke detector or you would like our members to conduct a fire safety inspection of your residence visit or contact the Brewster Fire Department at 1657 Main St. (508-896-7018). Our members and my office look forward to the opportunity to work in partnership with our residents to improve the level of fire and life safety within this great community.