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Learning from history in public safety

First responders need to become students of history, because it’s one of the easiest ways to avoid becoming the subject of history repeating itself

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History plays a role in nearly everything you do in the emergency services. The equipment and techniques you use have evolved because we have learned things from past events. I’ll bet many of you have certain policies and procedures in place because someone did something to warrant a new rule.

To be a good steward of your profession, you need to be a historian. Read articles about historical incidents. Review reports that were written following significant events and imagine what you would have done in the same situation. Talk with your co-workers about what actions could have improved the outcome.

The concept of learning from the past is nothing new. In the early 1900s, a famous Spanish philosopher wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston Churchill echoed those words decades later.

But in public safety, we keep making the same mistakes and taking the same chances with a long history of poor outcomes for our personnel.

We consistently lose police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel because they are not wearing seatbelts. Suicide among first responders has risen dramatically because we have ignored mental health. Heart attacks and strokes are killing our members every day because we haven’t done enough to address general health and wellness.

On emergency scenes, the official reports often state the same root causes of serious injuries and death. Things like poor communications, inadequate accountability and lack of situational awareness are very common themes.

At the end of the day, emergency responders need to become students of history. It’s one of the easiest ways to avoid becoming the subject of history repeating itself.

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Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.

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