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DON'T 'FALL' SHORT

Col. James L. Fisher, AETC director of safety

Col. James L. Fisher, AETC director of safety

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- We just wrapped up the Critical Days of Summer in early September and now enter the fall season, that serene, scenic time of year when the leaves change color and cooler weather gives us a welcome respite from the heat. But don't be lulled into a false sense of security. While fall might not carry the notoriety summer does as a high-risk season, it still comes with its own set of hazards to face.

But before we move forward, let's "fall back" and take a peek at how we fared this summer.

Unfortunately, the Air Force lost 17 Airmen during that critical time period between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day. Three Airmen died in on-duty mishaps; 14 in off-duty. Air Education and Training Command members accounted for two of those fatalities. Most of these deaths were preventable, such as the Airman who was free-rock climbing without safety gear and fell, or the one who lost control of a trailer he was pulling and crashed.

We always hope Airmen take risk-management principles we learn at our Air Force work centers and try to translate them into their personal lives outside the gate. Tragically, however, several missteps we took this summer were the result of personal risk-management failures.

That means we still have a lot of work to do now that the calendar has turned to autumn.

We'd be remiss if we began the fall season without talking about fall protection. Slips and falls have historically been one of our most common hazards -- both on- and off-duty. In the last issue of Torch, we covered a serious ladder mishap. In this issue, our cover story features a lieutenant who tumbled nearly 40 feet from a tree! And we already mentioned the Airman who fell to his death while rock climbing. If you are operating at an elevated position, use a tether or safety harness. If on a ladder, ensure you have a spotter. Common sense usually prevails here.

This is also the time of year we start to stoke the fireplace again and use decorative lights and candles as the holidays approach. These activities take our fire prevention efforts in other directions we need to consider.

Additionally, cold-weather sports, such as snow skiing and hunting, are just around the corner. Improper preparation for these types of activities could quickly develop into life-threatening situations. If you are up in a deer stand, like I will be this fall, be sure to wear a safety harness, along with your cold-weather gear. If you've penciled in a ski trip or other snow-bound activity, ensure you plan ahead, pack your safety equipment and do a risk assessment.

In AETC, we continue to emphasize the idea that "Life Doesn't Rewind." We don't get the opportunity to go back after a tragic event and change our poor decisions. At best, if we're lucky, we live long enough to learn from our mistakes and pass those lessons on to others. So embrace the pleasures of the fall season, but please do so with a safety mind-set.