Tragedy Illustrates That No Event Is Ever ‘Routine’

Szpytek Stan PHOTO for Column

Stan Szpytek

Good Afternoon, ProviderNation.

The loss of 19 dedicated firefighters in a single catastrophic incident is a hard pill to swallow for emergency responders, the region, the state of Arizona, and the entire nation. In one swift “situational change,” lives were lost and an entire community was devastated by the ultimate sacrifice made by a group of heroic men committed to protecting their neighbors.While no long term care facilities were directly impacted by the fire as of this writing, we have come to learn that at least two LTC facilities in the immediate region employ three staff members who lost their husbands in the blaze. The psychological impact of the death of an employee’s spouse in any type of event, let alone such a painful scenario, can obviously cause an adverse condition in the workplace.

Every long term care provider should have a plan to address a similar incident where the loss of an employee’s spouse, child, family member, or significant other can profoundly impact the psychological well-being of the organization.

The Arizona Health Care Association, like many state affiliates of the American Health Care Association, now plays a key role in disaster management when significant events like this occur. In an advisory capacity, the association’s Disaster-Ready Team connects with long term care providers in affected areas to assess needs, as well as determine capabilities and communicate directly with the state’s Incident Command Center at the Arizona Department of Health Services. This type of collaboration is a good example of the posture that many state affiliates are taking as they become true stakeholders in disaster preparedness and emergency management.

No one ever expects to be a victim of an adverse event or a disaster. In my 26 years of experience as an emergency responder, it was the “routine” situations and a sudden situational change that transformed a minor event into a potential catastrophe.

Make sure that your staff is ready for any emergency, and never allow them to consider any type of adverse event as “routine.” Every small fire, smoke condition, power failure, storm, intruder, flood, or other types of disruption to normal operations has the potential of turning into a situation with serious consequences. Learn from the tragedy in Arizona, and teach your staff to never underestimate how a seemingly routine incident can turn critical in the blink of an eye.

Stan Szpytek, is president of Fire and Life Safety (FLS) and is the life safety/disaster planning consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association and California Association of Health Facilities. Szpytek is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 35 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit or e-mail Szpytek at

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