Don’t wait: Why EMS leaders must prepare for LODDs now

Questions that need to be answered well before an on duty loss of life or serious injury


The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. in the summer of 2014 was the catalyst for 19 days of civil unrest, rioting, looting and assaults. Christian Hospital EMS ambulances were right in the middle of mayhem. As the chief of EMS, my responsibilities were countless, and I needed to be prepared with an answer for every challenge that arose. 

One of my main responsibilities was, of course, keeping the workforce safe. Our leadership team assured our personnel we would not put them in harm's way and everyone would go home at the end of their shift. 

As the rioting become more violent, the sense of urgency for employee safety increased, and the possibility one of my team members might in fact get hurt or even killed became a reality. This prompted us to ask our workforce to ensure their emergency contact cards were up-to-date. This request made me think; I may have to go to to someone's home to announce an injury or death to a loved one. I suddenly realized that as the chief of the organization, I was not prepared, and neither was the department, for a line of duty death (LODD). 

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The process to prepare for an LODD

Realizing we had no policy or protocol in place sent a chill down my spine. Leaders try to prepare for every inevitability, but sometimes a challenge is missed and a policy, protocol or procedure needs to be created. With the events in Ferguson ongoing, an LODD was a real risk that needed to be addressed.

A flood of questions needed answers: 

  • How do I notify the family?
  • Who should go with me? 
  • Who do I notify within the organization?
  • How do I stop a co-worker from getting to the family - face to face or electronically - before I do? 
  • How do we cover funeral arrangements for the family? 
  • Do I need to prepare a eulogy? 
  • How do we address the media interest that will follow? 

Simply making a list of questions quickly became exhausting.

Being a bit superstitious, I worried that writing a policy would make an LODD inevitable. I hesitated on writing a formal policy and instead outlined things like these to do just in case:

  • Get in touch with Pastoral Services for assistance with family notification
  • Develop a list of support resources for survivors 
  • Research family assistance programs 
  • Assign a leadership team member as a 24/7 family liaison
  • Request mutual aid support to allow personnel to attend a memorial service or funeral

Develop an LODD policy

Every day it was a relief that all crewmembers stayed safe and went home at the end of their shift. As the violence wound down,a policy took shape with the following structure; pre-event planning, event management, and post-event follow-up.

1. Pre-event planning
The planning for an LODD must begin well before a loss of life. Pre-event planning is your time to gather information, select  resources, and train staff. Pre-event planning is a continual process and should be fluid and dynamic. 

2. Event management
The decision that leaders make in the minutes and hours after an LODD are critical. This is the time to remember the survivors, family members, and workforce and assure we make a positive, lasting impression. Your workforce will always remember how you treated the family and hope that their own family would be treated with the same respect and dignity. A death is a very stressful situation for all involved. Your leadership will require sound judgment, critical thinking, compassion and empathy. 

3. Post-event follow-up
The impact of an LODD will have a lasting effects on all involved and the organization. Your post-event follow-up needs to address the transition from mourning to returning to business as usual. Team members will need time to grieve, remember and reflect on the incident. 

As a leader, it is your responsibility to develop a process that moves the organization past the event and into the future. There may still be mourning, and this should be monitored for months to come. 

As you go through the process to develop an LODD response plan, you will likely find more questions to answer. At the outset of the process, talk with the your workforce and ask them how they would want their family treated in this time of sorrow. What resources would their families need? What’s the best way to notify them? Your workforce will be a world of information and guidance during this development stage. 

As a leader, it is important for me to always to address the needs of my workforce. Having considered how I would best handle an LODD was not an area of comfort and something I hope I never have to do, but at least now I am better prepared. 

Share your resources or tips for EMS leaders about planning for and responding to an LODD in the comments.

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