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Standdown focuses on safety

LAWRENCEVILLE - For three days, Gwinnett County firefighters have put a special emphasis on safety in a nationwide standdown from nonemergency-related activities.

Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services suspended all nonemergency-related activities between June 21 and June 23 after an alarming number of firefighters nationwide have died since the beginning of this year.

Gwinnett's last firefighter fatality was in April 2003.

Tommy Rutledge, public information officer for the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services, said firefighters did not do any station tours, public relations types of activities or anything else that was not emergency-related.

"This was similar to a military standdown in some ways," Rutledge said. "We just want to educate our firefighters on what they can do to stay safe so they can continue to serve the

community."

Rutledge said there has been a 25 percent increase in line-of-duty deaths of firefighters since the beginning of this year.

"There's been an unacceptable number of deaths and injuries lately," firefighter Trey McKnight said. "I think the standdown is a way to wake everyone up and remind them of the realities of the job."

Rutledge said practicing safety is something Gwinnett firefighters do constantly, but firefighters said the standdown was still a good time for extra safety training.

"Sometimes we forget the little safety things because we get so focused on getting to the call, so it's good to go back over procedures and relearn," McKnight said.

Rutledge said firefighters have spent time being trained on new equipment the past couple days, as well as on physical fitness and healthy eating, because heart attacks are the leading killer of firefighters.

"We try and watch our diets," Capt. Bob Jones, of the No. 11 Station, said. "We often have the debate of taste or health, but we think it's important to take care of ourselves because of the job we have to do."