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Firefighter Fatalities – Volunteers

August 15, 2012

Whoopee – the number has been below “100” the last three years – but don’t break out the party hats and whistles yet. It’s not zero and the COLD STARK reality is you still have a greater chance of dying performing your job as a firefighter than you do in other careers.

Firefighters know death can come in many ways. Buildings collapse – fires flash over – vapors explode – and vehicles run you over. A recent trip back to the National Fire Academy was a reminder for me.

Standing in front of the three 40’ bronze New York Firefighter statues brought clear acknowledgement. And if that wasn’t enough then the short walk to the other side of the grounds to the firefighter’s memorial was.

As I looked down at the bronze plate – there it was – under the State of Kansas – the name Dennis Simmons. Simmons was a Stafford County Firefighter who suffered a fatal heart attack after fighting a wild land fire in the spring of 2009. He was a volunteer.

I point out his Volunteer status because many don’t understand them completely – nor did I until 2009. That was when I took the position of Stafford County Emergency Service Director.

Stafford County is a rural department with a total county population of just over 4,000. The average age is a polar opposite category than the population – it’s on the “high” side.

Unfortunately, age isn’t always kind to our physical ability. Yet, just passing the torch onto the younger folks isn’t always an option for us rural folks.

So, before you criticize a Volunteer department because one of their older firefighters suffers a fatality, understand the challenges they face.

Another beautiful building on the National Fire Academy campus is the Firefighter’s Chapel. I spent a few moments there – and lit a candle for Firefighter Simmons before leaving.

Rest in Peace Brother.

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