There are some people out there who truly love words, who can turn a phrase in a way that elevates their meaning. As a writer, I’ve known some wickedly serious wordsmiths who demand constant surveillance of my language — and I enjoy the challenge.
But sometimes the mere suggestion that a differently named rose wouldn't smell as sweet can turn opinion sour.
Burton Clark, my friend and wordsmith extraordinaire, recently wrote a blog about words that relate to firefighters’ deaths. In it, he compared to the military's use of “killed in action” to the fire service's use of “line-of-duty death." Clark believes the fire service should stop referring to firefighter deaths as LODDs, and instead should call them “occupational fatalities.” Part of his argument is that "line-of-duty death" implies in some way an inevitable, whereas an "occupation fatality" is preventable. I could see his logic.
Clark believes using "LODD" for all firefighter deaths is a misnomer, as the term covers not only fireground deaths but heart attacks or other stress-related diseases that contribute to a firefighter's death. Firefighters killed in collapse, accidents or other unpreventable actions should be classified as "line-of-duty deaths." Those firefighters were killed in action. But the military makes the distinction between someone who died on the battlefield (KIA) and someone who made it to treatment (died of wounds, or DOW). Should the fire service have a distinction between fireground deaths and all others?
Unfortunately, Clark’s idea struck an unpopular chord, based on the comments the blog received. But what some failed to realize is that Clark wasn't disparaging the individuals — he was questioning the semantics.
Clark's comparison to the military isn't an apples-to-apples one; firefighters and soldiers have drastically different missions. But the idea of a fatality distinction has merit. Last year, nine firefighters died in motor vehicle accidents because they were not wearing seatbelts. Is it fair to compare those deaths to that of a firefighter who falls through a floor or dies while trying to rescue someone? I wonder.
If you say no distinction is warranted, shouldn't cancer deaths be classified as LODDs?
Emphysema can certainly be attributed to firefighting in retired firefighters. While cancer is not at this time preventable, wearing a seatbelt is a preventative action.
Is it time to change the terminology of firefighter deaths? Like Clark, I’m just asking the question.