By Ian Bennett, Local Assistance State Team National Coordinator
When a firefighter dies in the line-of-duty, fire departments swing into action to honor the life lost. They support the member’s family, comfort one another, and accept food and kind words from strangers.
For the incident commander (IC), it can be a difficult and lonely time. There’s often no direct peer, no one else in their department who has experienced the unique perspective and range of emotions of losing a firefighter under their command.
In June 2019, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) began to fill this need for support for ICs. They brought a group of seasoned firefighters together, peer to peer, to talk about the darkest days of their career. They’re part of a select club that no incident commander ever wants to join. Using their own experiences, the group designed a program of peer support for the incident commander, the IC to IC Network.
The IC to IC Network will be formally introduced in the near future, but is available now for any IC, regardless of rank or department type, who has experienced a LODD. ICs will be matched up with a peer incident commander that experienced an LODD – someone to talk with who understands and can help in the healing process.
For the working group members, the development of the program was a chance to continue their own healing process.
“I realized this program is part of my personal coping mechanism,” said Eric Kriwer, Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal for the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority. “I was able to take the personal struggles I was having and turn them into something positive for others. Fire service professionals are wired to help others. This provided me an opportunity to help other fire service professionals cope with LODD in their organizations.”
Firefighting remains a dangerous job. There are times when no amount of technology, equipment, knowledge or courage can stop the chain of events that leads to an LODD. When a line-of-duty-death occurs, fire departments must be prepared to support everyone impacted. This includes family, fellow firefighters and the person who may be feeling the weight of this tragedy the most, the incident commander.