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Firefighters focus on personal safety

Day in and day out, firefighters pour their hearts into protecting the safety of the community. Last week, Russellville firefighters took some time to remember the importance of protecting themselves.

Gary Cosby, a regional coordinator with the Alabama Fire College, explained the Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives for Russellville Fire Department firefighters. The 16 initiatives are part of the “Everyone Goes Home” program of the “Courage to be Safe” campaign of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The initiatives are efforts to decrease – with a goal to eliminate – line-of-duty deaths among firefighters.

Initiatives include mandates like “Firefighters and their families must have access to counseling and psychological support” and “All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices,” and they also touch on several matters of policy, calling for national medical and fitness standards for firefighters, national protocols for response to violent incidents, national standards for emergency response policies and a national research and data collection system relating to the initiatives.

“We’re so conscious of taking care of everybody else, we don’t take care of ourselves,” Cosby said. “It’s just something we need to be reminded about.”

The presentation also included clips of firefighters and chiefs across the nation sharing their own experiences with line-of-duty deaths of fellow officers.

All of RFD Chief Joe Mansell’s firefighters went through their presentation during their shifts over a three-day period, and Mansell said he hopes some of what they heard and saw will sink in. One thing firefighters have do, Mansell said, is step back and look at the big picture.

“The only time you want to risk your life is when you are risking it for a save-able life,” Mansell said. “There’s not a house worth dying for. We want to do our job … and when it’s a structure fire, these guys put their lives on the line, but there comes a point, when the fire gets too big – is it worth possibly dying for? Just for a house? If there is stuff we know we can get in there and save, these guys are willing to put their lives on the line to try to save that kind of stuff (like pictures, sentimental items and other personal belongings), but this class teaches you there’s a point when you have to look at the big picture: are you saving anything? When it’s all said and done, did you save anything? You have to step back and realize, am I going to get somebody killed?”

Mansell was reminded of a particularly challenging fire from his own experience.

“I remember years ago, we fought the hardest I have ever fought on a fire,” Mansell said. “We didn’t save anything except the building – the building was still standing. The next week, bulldozers were knocking the building down. We worked all night, hours, fighting the fire. There was nobody in it. And you get to thinking, there are firemen getting killed fighting fires where there isn’t a save-able life on the inside.

“This class is just trying to get you to stop and think, ‘What am I going in there for?’ Is it worth it?”

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