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.

Protect This House!

* Image and terminology are registered trademarks of the Under Armor Corporation. But you already knew that, didn’t you.

This post is going to be breaking new ground for BAS. I’ve asked another thick-headed, knuckle dragging firefighter who is still clinging to the old ways of doing things (like me) to write a guest post. I kinda imagined those of you who read this probably got bored of listening to me ramble all the time so I thought maybe a slightly different message from another jake from another part of the country might make things interesting. Besides, it will give some exposure to the author’s blog for people who may not have run across it yet. So without further ado…

Jason Jefferies is a firefighter from NC who is the primary contributor for his site He’s been a firefighter since 1996 and for the last 6 years he’s been employed by the Charlotte Fire Department where he is currently assigned as a Firefighter II to Ladder 13/C and HazMat 2/C. He is also a volunteer with the Belmont Fire Department in his hometown.
Along with numerous professional certifications Jason is also an IFSAC Live Burn and Rapid Intervention Team Instructor.  Jason and I have gotten to know each other over the last year or so and are currently suffering through a long-distance bro-mance. Stay strong brother. Someday we’ll meet up and have a beer or 6 (did that just get weird?). Here is Jason Jefferies’ post on respecting your heritage and your career.

Protecting Ourselves

Before we begin, I’d like to thank Ol’ Hallway Sledge for asking me to write a guest spot here on Backwards and Stupid.  I’ve read everything he’s written and I can surely say that I feel like he and I are cut from the same cloth.  When he asked me if I would write something, he also gave me Carte Blanche (yeah, I’m a smart Southerner, get up on that!) and basically said I could write whatever without editorial influence in any way.  I’ll just say this and then we’ll get started:  The following words could have just as easily been written by anyone that gives a damn about the fire service.

Anything worth having in this world is worth fighting for and anyone that will argue against that doesn’t have their head on right.  This profession that we proudly call ours is one of those things.  That’s what makes the fire service so great.  Look at the fierce allegiance that is present in many firehouses, it’s evident on our patches and in our slogans.  You’ll see phrases like “Pride of the Westside” and “We finish what others can’t”.  Honestly, we are all like a bunch of street gangs.  We all have our own turf (our still alarm area), we all have our own colors (company t-shirts and patches), we all have our own gang members (firemen) and we fight tooth and nail to maintain our identities and existence.  If you love your house, you’ll protect it, even if that means getting nasty at times.

I’m fortunate.  I’m assigned to one of the most sought after companies in my city, and believe me there are some great stations out there, mine is just the best (ya see how it starts?)  Long before I even entertained the idea of being a fireman, the men at my firehouse were forging a tradition that has stood the test of time.  A firehouse cannot build a reputation overnight, a good reputation that is. It takes years of sweat and toil, years of successful rescues and top notch work, years of always being the go to guys.  Where does that leave us assigned there today?

It’s our duty to perpetuate that reputation and sometimes it’s not easy.  When transfer time rolls around, we don’t lose guys.  We lose guys due to promotions almost all of the time, but every once in a while someone that does not fit makes it into the ranks.  It does not take long before the shift basically lets the round peg know that he does not fit into the square hole and should leave.  If an undesirable fireman puts in a transfer to come there, he’s told don’t bother.  Is that the right way to do business?  Yes.  You see, we may be relatively new to the American fire service when compared to 400 years of history, but we are an old school house, and we’ll be damned if we are going to tarnish the reputation that was set for us.  What’s my point of all of this?  Stick with me just a little longer.

Society today tells us that we should be all-inclusive. Ideas that say, “everyone gets a fair shake, everyone gets fair treatment, and no one is excluded”, are crammed down our throats from the day we start school.  Sure, it works for most places, but never in the fire service.  Let’s be honest, not everyone is cut out for this job but we are constantly running into people out of place in our firehouses.  Some are out of their element, some are simply lazy, and others are just plain old stupid.  Don’t think so?  How many guys on your fire department have said things like, “I’m only here for the benefits.”?  How many guys would rather spend ALL day lining up lawns to mow for their sideline job but ask them for 1 hour of company training and they pitch a tantrum like a 4 year old?  How do they relieve you, 1 minute until the bell rings I’ll bet.  How many Mouches do you have?  Don’t know what a Mouch is…they are half man and half couch, only getting up to eat, sleep, or hit the john.  Don’t even get me started on their inability to function as a team member on menial tasks, not to mention acting as a part of the CREW on a fire.  This is where the all inclusive, everyone deserves a chance, anyone can do this job mentality has gotten us.  You see, I don’t know your story, but I know your fire department.  I know it because they are all the same just change the names and faces and we are all the same.

This is not a gripe.  I have a solution:  Here’s how we at my firehouse handle it.

We have, as my Dad used to say, an old fashioned “You Suck” meeting.  Basically the firemen and engineers get together and let the guy know that he isn’t cutting the mustard.  Straighten up, fly right, and get your crap together.  If you can’t, get your crap and find a new company.  Will that ruffle feathers?  Yes.  Is it tactful?  Nope and it shouldn’t be.  We are not baking cakes here, our job is deadly and someone that will shirk a small task like cleaning the head will also shirk and important one like chasing kinks in the attack line.  Why are we abrasive, big, mean, poopy heads?  Because we love our firehouse, and we’ll be damned if anyone will tarnish it.

That’s the mentality it takes to protect a firehouse, but doesn’t the message transcend far past my little old corner of the fire service?  You bet it does.  If everywhere, everyone who gave a damn about this line of work would take a mentality such as this, perhaps we could separate the wheat from the chaff in this profession, making us all better in the long run.  I’m an idealist I know, but I love this job and will do what it takes to protect it, even if that means saying, “You suck.”

Jason Jefferies

I couldn’t agree more Jason. Folks, I think I’ve said it in another post but I’m going to say it again. I may want to be a brain surgeon with every fiber of my being but God just didn’t have that plan for me. So just because I really, really, really want to does that mean I should be handed a scalpel and drill and be sent into an OR? Heck, no! And I wouldn’t want anyone who was anything less than at the top of their game poking around in my brain either! People fail. People try really, really hard and fail. I’ve done it hundreds of times as I’m sure you have too. We don’t have to let every probie that comes along into the fraternity. Some just suck. Period.

I’m not a heartless person, most of the time. I know that anyone that might be denied their dream or lose their job will probably have a strong emotional reaction and maybe even some tough financial or relational times as well. And I truly would feel bad for that person and his/her close friends and relatives. But that is not enough reason to risk my life and safety, my fellow brothers and sisters lives and safety and especially those who’s lives and property we’ve sworn to protect on someone who doesn’t belong.

If you haven’t been to Jason’s blog before please either click the link in the post or on the right in the blogroll and check him out. Add him to your favorites and keep checking up for new stuff. And if you beat me to Charlotte, look him up and buy him a beer.

Stay safe,