Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Never Forget

December 29th, 2009. One year ago today, at 1933 hours, the St, Anna Fire Department (Wisconsin) was dispatched to a dumpster fire behind an Industrial building. How many thousands of these type calls have we all attended? How many of us quickly go into 'just another trash fire mode'?
 For Steven Koeser, and his entire Department, it would be a night that would change, or end their lives. Steven Koeser did not survive that night, he was killed in the explosion. Eight other firefighters, including one Junior firefighter would be injured.
 Steven was 33 years old and had served with the St. Anna Department for 15 years. He was well trained and was respected as a 'go to guy' in his Department. He left behind his partner and a beautiful little daughter. He had just bought his first home and was looking forward to all the improvements he was going to be doing to it as he built a home for his family.
 Steven did not die because he was foolish. He did not die because he drove recklessly. He died because, as a group, his team could not determine what type of fire they were fighting..
 I have spent many, many hours reviewing the NIOSH Report and Wisconsin Department Of Justice's report on this incident. NIOSH provides many details about the circumstances regarding the possible cause of the explosion, but drew no solid conclusions.  The State report stated that "The cause of the explosion was as a result of the fire suppression efforts and the introduction of water and fire suppressant foam."
 I am in no position to second guess the investigators and won't. However, I do have extensive education and experience in working with the materials involved as an Engineer. I have knowledge of the chemical composition and understand well how these compounds react under various levels of heat conditions. I could postulate and speculate all night long on this, but it doesn't matter what I think, or even what you think.
 What does matter is that there is a pretty little girl in Wisconsin that will grow up without a Daddy. What does matter is that there are a many people in the St. Anna Fire Department that will never think the same way, ever again. They lost a co-worker and a dear friend in just a few seconds.
 As an instructor I reviewed this incident for many hours, over and over. I am using it in a class I am teaching this year. There is a great lesson in this, that Steven Koeser gave his life to teach us something and by God, I am going to make sure that everyone I meet in the service learns.
 We don't know what we don't know.
 If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. STOP, and re-think what you are doing.
I am not going to second guess the fine folks at the St. Anna FD. It's always easy after the fact. Rather, I want to point out to you that this could easily have happened anywhere. St. Anna is just like the rest of us, they are no different. It was a damned dumpster fire! Let's just put the damned thing out and go home! Would you have thought any different? Tell the truth...would you?
 The lesson here is simply this: If what you are doing is not working, STOP. Re-assess. Go through your risk/benefit algorithm again. What am I risking? What am I gaining?

 If you want to get a feel for what the real risks are, just ask Iron Firemen. In his post on the work at the National Fallen Firefighter's Weekend he states " We had the wife of another fallen Brother along with their 3 year old daughter talk for 15 minutes of their loss and the support group that quickly surrounded their lives. I’ve shed a many a tear today and am proud to say so." He was writing about Steven Koeser's family. Or you can watch this from FOX News:
video
 Or you can read the piece from Sunday Morning on CBS that includes an interview with Steven's partner. I am sorry the video is no longer available. It was a good piece. Or you can read this on Fire Daily.
 I too have shed tears for Steven's family. I know it could be mine and I know that I am no less likely to not get sucked into a deceiving situation than Steven was.
 So my request to you is this: Please, never forget the lessons those who have gone before us have given their lives to teach us. Learn from them, use their experiences to keep you and your mates safe.
 Rest In Peace Steven. We will NEVER FORGET.
UU

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