In the Wake of Tragedy

Image     In the beginning stages of a news-worthy story there are generally a few things that happen that have become common place in our society today. First, there is a storm of information that crashes onto the internet. These early reports are usually from scanner listeners and people near the scene of whatever is going on. The reports are usually short and to the point, perhaps not yet grasping the severity of the situation or being extremely limited in facts. “Boston Fire working a fire in a brownstone.” “Reports of victims trapped.” Or, “Huge fire by my office!” are blasted out across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets. This usually sparks some interest from those of us in the fire service community and we may begin to take notice on a professional curiosity level. Many lay people just go on about their business, perhaps seeing a cubicle-dweller’s picture out of his office window and giving it casual look, thinking “Oh, thats pretty cool.” Second, as the incident may escalate, the local media is drawn to the scene. Often their first information is also drawn from scanner feeds or social media outlets. This piques some reporters interest and he or she may grab a mic, a camera man and a van and head down to the scene. This may turn into something and their station/paper/magazine needs to be the first to break it in the name of ratings and advertising dollars (because if there are no ratings there are no advertising dollars and then they all lose their jobs). These reports initially consist of very little substance and even fewer facts. They are generally what we in the job would refer to as “fire porn.” A live TV shot from the ground, or a helicopter, or some remote cam showing a bunch of smoke and fire. The long lines of apparatus parked along the street. The sound of Q-sirens wailing. This draws in viewers and again piques interest among people. After all, most people are enthralled at the site of a huge header and blowing flames. Next comes the erroneous or mis-information. This is usually as the result of two different reasons. Firstly, uneducated people making statements about something they know little to nothing about or, secondly, a rush to try and get “facts” out to the public without the needed vetting of sources and corroboration. One need only think back to 9/11 to remember this. How many reports of more planes being hijacked were there? Reports of terrorists running around Manhattan with guns. Eye-witness accounts of missiles being fired at the towers and the Pentagon. The same thing happens on smaller scales at every major incident. Some are embellishments by lay people and reporters alike, “Firefighters are doing their best to keep this entire block from becoming a conflagration” when those of us with any kind of knowledge and experience can see it’s a room and contents with a window failure that might get the neighbor’s house going if left alone long enough. Some are inadvertent inaccuracies based on pieces of information from many different sources. And still others you just have to laugh at wondering where the talking-head pulled that little gem from? Then, mercifully, comes the wind-down. When the incident is all but over and the live-shots from the scene involve a couple aerial pipes and a whole bunch of steam. Facts are corrected. Some reporters may even admit to mistaken reports earlier. Public interest is now all but gone and the story fades into history. But, in the wake of tragedy, this sequence of events is kicked into hyper-drive. Huge fires draw viewers. Huge fires draw hits to social media pages. Huge fires draw fame to those that were previously unknown. Firefighters dying in the line of duty does that ten-fold. And this is where I am ashamed of so many of our own. In the wake of tragedy there are those that seek to exploit the situation in one form or another. Memorial t-shirts, hats, stickers are all available to order within hours by unscrupulous vendors looking to cash in on our collective grief and traditions of remembering our fallen. Still others look to gain notoriety in some fashion or other. The guy from next door giving his eye witness account. The retired so-and-so on TV called in to provide commentary as an “expert.” And then there is the lowest of the low, in my opinion. There are those that call themselves brothers and sisters who take to their keyboards and the internet and immediately begin the Monday morning quarterbacking. Each and every one of these belly-crawlers would have never been in “that” situation. They would have had that fire out by the time this event could have happened by using this technique or that. They throw out buzzwords and hot topics to prove what salty Jakes they are and that everyone should listen to them. It’s a grab at feeling self-important or respected by their peers. Some do it in the name of “education.” “Hey! I’m just trying to prevent this from happening to someone else!”, is their rallying cry. Playing the part of the selfless champion for today’s fire service our brave brother or sister points out every last flaw they noted on the 15 seconds of film they saw on their local news station. Or pin points the exact thing that caused the whole operation to go South from the one radio transmission they perceive to be the most important. Yes, in the wake of tragedy we should all bow down before these pillars of fire service knowledge and stalwarts of tradition. Or, in the wake of tragedy, we should shut the fuck up. We should come to grips with our own individual mortality and realize that in an hour, tomorrow or in a month that could be you or I. We should offer support and prayers and encouraging words to one another. In the wake of tragedy we should be still and let things develop as they will. Allow investigations and reports to be completed. Let the facts come out. Not speculation. Not supposition. Not your own goddam commentary based on the three fires you’ve been to in the last three years. In the wake of tragedy we should come alongside our brothers and sisters who have had huge, gaping holes torn in their lives and assist them in any way that we can, not add to their grief. In the wake of tragedy we support the loved ones left behind. We become surrogate mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, friends. We play catch in the yard. We cut the lawn. We pick up groceries. We let them know that they are part of the biggest, most dedicated and most loving family in the world. In the wake of tragedy we continue to do what we have all sworn to do; we serve. In the wake of tragedy we honor, in actions and in words. Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Rest in eternal peace Lieutenant Ed Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, we’ve got it from here.

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