David Griffin laid it all out on the table with brutal honesty. The first-time nervousness he felt in the role of assistant engineer on the way to the Sofa Super Store fire on June 18, 2007. The guilt he felt knowing that 9 of his department brothers had died. The deep despair as he spiraled into self-destruction, using a near-lethal mix of alcohol, pain medication to manage his personal pain and grief. And the confusion and crisis that enveloped the entire Charleston Fire Department.
Through sheer will and the support of family and friends he managed to rebound. Likewise, the department soon began to rebuild under the guidance of their new chief, the late Tom Carr. Griffin’s poignant messages about personal accountability, responsibility and empowerment, as well as strong leadership within an organization resonated with the audience.
He made it clear that change is possible on every level. “Accept the challenge to change,” he said. “Don’t talk about it – do it!”
Inspired by Griffin’s story, the attendees got down to business to refine the messages of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. 10 groups were created to address specific aspects of the fire service. Within each group were representatives of every level – from back step firefighters to chiefs, career and volunteer, government administrators and researchers as well as private industry. They collaborated successfully to brainstorm better ways of disseminating the messages and motivating change. Representatives from each group reported their recommended strategies back to the attendees.
In summarizing the group reports, Chief J. Gordon Routley commented that the overall message is the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives are still valid, although some need word-smithing or to be retooled.
“We need more focus on certain issues, go deeper in certain areas, take advantage of new communication means and go broader with the message,” he said. “We need to share the passion on a large scale.”
In his closing remarks, Chief Dennis Compton complimented all the participants on the outstanding ideas and recommendations that were presented. He reiterated that this undertaking is for the entire fire service and partners to embrace. Chief Compton hoped everyone involved would feel empowered to carry out the messages and actions of Tampa 2.
“We need to look to others who are being successful and hold them up,” said Compton. “This is what will help spread the message and let us reach our goals of reducing line of duty deaths.”