The Dirty Dozen

I receive e-mails from the U.S. Fire Administration every time a firefighter dies. These e-mails usually list specific information about the fallen firefighter, such as their name, age, department and details of their death. It truly pains me when I see one of these messages waiting for me in my inbox.

For„EMS deaths, I review the notices when I visit„ The National EMS Memorial Service also honors those lost. If a death is particularly horrific, the related news story will pop up on several EMS Web sites. Two tragedies come to recent memory: One incident led to the deaths of three EMTs in„Arkansas last year when their ambulance was hit by a train at a crossing. The other incident involved the deaths of three EMTs from Antwerp EMS in„Ohio earlier this year when their ambulance was broadsided by a commercial truck.

These incidents are tragic, and every line-of-duty death (LODD) in our profession is heartbreaking. How many go unrecognized? And, perhaps more important, how many could we have prevented?

ÂDirty_ Deeds

To see how we can better prevent LODDs in„EMS, we can look to initiatives in related professions. Statistically, you’re safer flying all the way around the globe than you are getting in your car and driving to work. Why?

Partly because the aviation industry uses a consolidated reporting system to proactively identify near misses and observe trends in order to prevent errors, injuries and deaths. For instance, if a pilot has to make an emergency landing because his small plane begins sputtering and losing power, and the reporting system also shows similar problems within the region in the past couple of days, an alert can be sent out to warn other pilots of potentially contaminated fuel in the region.

Through its reporting system, one of the trends the airline industry discovered is that 98% of aviation mishaps were the result of human error. On the basis of those findings, Gordon Dupont, an aviation expert from Canada, came up with the ˙dirty dozenÓ — a list of human performance factors most commonly related to maintenance errors and airline incidents: lack of communication, complacency, lack of knowledge, distraction, lack of teamwork, fatigue, lack of resources, pressure, lack of assertiveness, stress, lack of awareness and norms.

Coming Clean

The aviation industry has addressed errors and accidents via a reporting system for untoward events, and the fire service is beginning to more closely examine injuries and deaths by following the airline industry model, producing such initiatives as„ But what can we do to protect our own?

First, visit„,„ and„ These Web sites accept„EMS near-miss information, including those involving fire-based systems, third-service models, hospital-based systems, volunteer systems, the private ambulance industry and others. If approved by your department, share information about incidents in your area or forward articles that you’ve read, so we can continue growing these valuable resources and reveal where in the dirty dozen we’re most at risk.

When it comes to protecting our own, it doesn’t matter what patch you have on your sleeve. We should all consider what we can do to eliminate the dirty dozen in our profession. Protecting every public safety professional should be our priority. After all, the first thing drilled in our heads in school is that scene safety always comes first.