top of page

Caring For Your Agency

Caring for the members of a department after a death has occurred can be an overwhelming and confusing task.  The Chief is the individual that everyone looks to for answers when a tragedy occurs.  The Chief has many duties to carry out when a death does occur, and ensuring that proper care and support is given to the department and the family is one of his duties.  Know that he/she has these duties to carry out, questions to answer, and many people to care for can bring on that feeling of being overwhelmed.

Here is some information that will help:

Caring for the members of the agency is different than caring for the family members.  While the feelings of grief and loss are usually the same, i.e. sadness, anger, and doubt, the death itself and the situation surround the death is what causes the difference in how the two sides are cared for.  How and when the support is given ensures the outcome of the healing process.


In order for the Chief and other officers in a department to ease the overwhelming feelings that come with a death and focus on the care of it’s personnel, it is important that they know several things.


  • Individual members will react to the death in different ways.  Some members will need to take time off or even leave the department.  Others will become more focused on their work as a public servant.

  • Those that were directly involved with the incident and the individual who has been killed will most likely experience their emotions to a more extreme degree.  It is necessary to remove those individuals from the scene of the incident as soon as possible.

  • The Chief cannot do it by his/herself. They must enlist the help of many other individuals to get through this time.

  • First Responders tend to experience ‘survivor guilt’ and post traumatic stress disorder after the event.  This is one of the areas that separate the care of the family from the care of the firefighters.  While a family might experience PTSD, the type of PTSD is going to be different.  The individual might relieve the incident and maybe watching their co-worker die over and over again, while the family member suffers from the death itself.

  • Pre-Planning is necessary!

Back to Top


  • The death of a public servant can send any stable agency into a chaotic tailspin, especially if the death occurred while on duty.  It can be even more chaotic when the department is unprepared.  It’s difficult for most people to think or talk about death and dying, but it’s so important for a department to do more than just think about it.  Departments have got to prepare for it.

  • Preparing and pre-planning for a death doesn’t just include writing the guidelines.  Preparation has got to include setting up a support system for the members of the department.  Having therapists, counselors, organizations, clergy, businesses, and specialized teams available should a death occur will help build a strong foundation for a support team.  This also makes sure that everyone in the department is cared for.

  • Pre-planning also includes that proper paper work, forms, and benefits information are on hand.  Trying to collect the important paper work at the last minute can not only add significant stress to the department, but to the family as well.  When it comes to the paperwork, an unprepared department can cause unnecessary friction between them and the family.  Being unprepared in this area can also cause distrust from the members of the department in their leaders.

  • Another area that is vital in the care of your department members is the CIP Form.  These packets include pertinent personal information about each member in the department that can be quickly accessed in the event of an emergency.  A more in depth review will be covered in the section ‘How to Set Up Personal Information Packets.’

  • The importance of pre-planning the guidelines in the event that there is a loss of a firefighter cannot be overstated. And, it is just as crucial that a department if prepared to handle the needs of their staff.  This guideline will assist you in developing plans for you to follow in the different areas, which directly affect the members of your department.

Back to Top

Building a Support Structure

  • When a tragedy occurs, there can never be too many helping hands, if you know where to place those helping hands.  If a department hasn’t made pre-arrangements with individuals or agencies that will help provide their services during a tragedy, if a tragedy should occur they would quickly become inundated by people offering to help.  With so many people wanting to offer assistance, it can be quite overwhelming on a department and it’s leaders.  In the confusion of everything that is going on with the incident, leaders often become confused on where exactly the help is needed.  They have the people there to help, they just don’t know where to send them.  Feelings of being overwhelmed take over and then the needed help is either not utilized or turned down.  Those that are offering their assistance can also feel like they are being ignored when they know there is problem that they can help alleviate.   Those on the outside looking in can often see a clearer picture of the needs that need to be met.  They aren’t as clouded by the emotions and stress that come with such a tragedy.

  • You know you need to have the people there to help support your efforts at the time of loss.  You know there are needs that are going to need to be met.  So how do you make sure that the right people are there to help and the needs of your department are going to be met?  You prearrange for the services of those individuals or agencies.

  • Let’s start off with the internal structure of your department.  Should a first responder die, these positions need to be activated by the Chief or other officer in charge:

  • Chaplain or Clergy Coordinator

  • Hospital Relations Coordinator

  • Benefits Coordinator

  • Family Coordinator

  • Department Coordinator

  • Funeral Coordinator

  • Procession Coordinator

  • Cemetery Coordinator

  • The Legal Team

  • The Investigation Team

  • Make sure that you have appointed willing personnel for each of these positions before an event takes place.  A better idea is to appoint at least two individuals for each coordinator position if your department is large enough to do so. This assures that everyone will be available to fulfill these roles in the event of a death.  Make sure that the individual(s) that are selected for these positions are well educated on what their duties will be once they are activated.

  • The two most important positions for the care of your department personnel will be the Chaplain(s) and the Department Coordinator.  These two sets of individuals will be working directly with the surviving members.  It’s a good idea to make sure that the individuals that hold these positions work well with people, have excellent communication skills, and work sufficiently under stress.

  • The Department Coordinator is the individual that provides the members of the department with up to date information on funeral/memorial plans, as well as new information that comes from the investigation of the incident.  It is important that the members of your department are always being informed of any new developments.  This individual also coordinates the efforts for finding mutual aid if necessary, and finding fresh personnel should any personnel affected by the incident need to be relieved of duty. Under no circumstances should a person who has been directly affected by the loss of the first responder be ordered to stay either on the scene or at the department.  The Department Coordinator also should work closely with the Chaplain to ensure that proper psychological and spiritual care is offered.  This means that the Coordinator needs to alert the CISM team, and any therapists, counselors, or clergy have been called.

  • The Chaplain is one of the department’s most vital resources in the care of the firefighter or police officer.  It is strongly encouraged that a department has a Chaplain on staff or as a volunteer.  These individuals are specially trained in the area of the emergency field and the issues that affect them.  The Chaplain is a spiritual advisor as a well as a counselor.  Their work with the first responders is priceless.  Trusting bonds are built with this individual and deep relationships develop over time.  If a Chaplain is already active in a department before a death occurs, the relationship with the personnel will already be there.  In the event of a death, firefighters are more likely to express their feelings and emotions and start the grieving process if they know the Chaplain.  If you have a larger department it’s wise to have a team of Chaplains available at all times, even if your department never experiences a loss.  If you are looking to add a chaplain to your department and are unsure of where to turn, please visit the Texas Corps of Fire Chaplains or the International Conference of Police Chaplains.

  • Other Clergy should be available, if the need arises.  It is likely that your department is filled with individuals that come from varying religious backgrounds.  Therefore, a Rabbi will have a more difficult time offering spiritual assistance to a first responder who is Catholic.  Contact the different church denominations in your area and ask to speak with the leader or minister of the church.  Ask the leader if they could provide a clergy member from their church to be available to assist the first responders in the event of a death or serious injury.  If they are able to provide someone, obtain the necessary contact information.

  • Councelors and Therapists also need to have pre-arrangements made for their services.  Find therapists that specialize in trauma, PTSD, and family care.  You can find psychologists in your area by calling the American Psychological Association’s referral hotline. Call 1-800-964-2000. The operator will use your zip code to locate and connect you with the referral system in your area.  When you locate a psychologist, ask about fees and ask if they do pro-bono work during emergency situations.  Also ask if they or someone else in their practice would be available to contact at any time.

  • CISM or Critical Incident Stress Management is a team that is made up of individuals who are trained to work with emergency workers affected by traumatic situations.  Many of these individuals are fellow first responders .  There are also chaplains and councilors that make up the structure of the team.  They are on call 24 hours per day.  Their primary duties are to hold a debriefing session where members talk about the traumatic incident.  It is a good idea to wait at least two to three days after the event before scheduling the debriefing sessions.  Don’t schedule the session after a visitation, funeral, or memorial service.  Never schedule a session the same day as an incident.  Care should be give to the members of the department by the chaplains, clergy members, and therapists during the first twenty-four hours.  Make it mandatory for all members that were on the scene where the death took place, to attend the sessions. Also schedule debriefing sessions for three months, six months, and one year after the incident.

  • Food Service Businesses need to be contacted and asked that their services be made available during an incident.  Pizza and sandwich shops, fast food restaurants can have food sent to the scene, the departments, or to the family.  This is especially important at scenes where victim recovery will take a while.  Sometimes body recovery can take days.  Members have been known to stay on the scene until the body has been removed.  Having refreshments available to the crews that are working or the individuals that are assisting the department members will not only help quell hunger but help boost what morale they do have.

  • Super Stores like Wal-Mart or K-Mart should be contacted as well.  In the event of an incident that requires crew members to stay on scene for long periods of time, these stores can provide necessities such as blankets, tooth paste, toothbrushes, snacks, even clothing.  They can supply needed items to your department.

  • Agencies like the Red Cross can assist on scene doing rehab for the first responders.  They can set up staging areas for the emergency services personnel to rest.  During hot weather, the Red Cross has been known to call the local metro system to borrow a bus to place on the scene.  The bus was air-conditioned and was a wonderful relief to the crews.  The Red Cross has a vast amount of resources available that can assist in the care of department personnel.

  • Having contacts in all of these areas available, creates a strong support system for your department.  If an a death should occur, you won’t need to waste valuable time searching for the right people to help in the right places.  Instead, you can pull out your contact list and start making the phone calls and assigning duties or expressing your needs for those certain individuals.  The Department Coordinator can make the phone calls to the contacts on the list.  It is important that the contacts be made soon after the department learns of the death, if possible within a couple of hours. 

  • Make sure that the list is updated every six months to a year.  Management in businesses change, clergy members move on to different churches, and organizations have been known to change their phone numbers.  The list becomes a hassle if the contacts are no longer available.

Back to Top

The Importance of Confidential Information Packets and How to Put Them Together

  • CIPs or Confidential Information Packets are extremely vital in being adequately prepared to handle the death or injury of a member of your department.  The CIP gives you all the pertinent information that is needed about each individual in your department.  When an individual is severely injured or dies, you can take their CIP and know who to contact, what their wishes are, and what important information needs to be followed through.  CIPs also help in the identification of the individual, if needed.Here is what needs to be included in the CIP:

  • Confidential Information Form.  The CIF is a document that will provide crucial information regarding the individual.  The form contains a vast amount of detailed personal information such as family information, notification information, insurance information, any pre-planned funeral information such as a living will, personal wishes regarding a memorial service or funeral in the event the individual should die.  A CIF is available through our PDF Forms area for you to review and/or download.

  • The CIF needs to be filled out by every member of the department.  The CIF needs to be signed by the first resonder, next of kin, and a public notary.  Encourage your personnel to have the next of kin thoroughly review the CIF before signing it.  This will help ensure that the final wishes of the individual are met.

  • The Survivors Information Form is also filled out by the first resonder and put into the CIP.  This form has specific information about how the firefighter would like his funeral to be conducted.  It also contains contact information for physicians, attorneys, and pastors and other advisors. In the event the firefighter should die, this form needs to be copied and given to the Funeral Coordinator and the Family Coordinator.  The original will be given to the next of kin.  The Coordinators need to respect the confidentiality of this form and not share it with any other person.  A sample of this form is also available through our PDF Forms area.

  • A current photograph of the individual needs to be placed in the CIP.  This helps with the identification of the individual if needed.  If permission is granted by the next of kin, the picture can be used on prayer cards, memorial bulletins, and on the department website.

  • A copy of the yearly physical results, blood work results, and EKG should be included in the CIP. The reason for this is, many firefighters die on duty from heart attacks or other illnesses.  Knowing of any medical problems can help determine whether that problem played a role in the death of the firefighter.  If the first resonder was brought to the hospital, the physicians have an automatic health history to review.  The physical results can also help the medical examiner determine if there were any changes in the system at the time of death.  For example, if the individual tested negative for Hep C at his last physical, and then at the time of death tested positive for the disease, this could be a factor that the medical examiner takes into consideration when determining a cause of death.

  • Have your first responders regularly checked for Hepatitis, HIV, Tuberculosis, heart and lung problems, and musculoskeletal injuries.

  • The last item that needs to be included, if possible, is a copy of the individual’s dental records.  Not all individuals have this available.  Encourage your members to have them made.  The dental records are used to determine a positive identification of a first resonder that has been considerably disfigured from their injuries.  If the incident involves multi-casualties, where two or more of the victims are disfigured, positive identification can be made quicker if the dental records are readily available.

  • After all of the items have been completed and obtained, the packet needs to be sealed and placed in a secured area.  It is not to be opened unless in the event of an LODD or severe injury where this information is required in the assistance of the department, individual, and family.  The packet needs to be updated every year, the form needs to be reviewed, a new picture needs to be placed in the file if necessary, and a new copy of medical records from the physical needs to be included.  A policy should be put into place that a firefighter will not be allowed to perform his duties unless the CIP has been completed.  New recruits will not be placed into stations for duty until their CIP has been completed.

  • There is a lot of information that needs to be obtained and made readily available to the department in the event of a loss of life.  Don’t wait until the last minute to build your support system, getting paperwork ordered, and CIPs in place.  Have this information ready and available as soon as possible.  Being prepared will better help you, help your department.

Back to Top

Support Structure
bottom of page