Tuscon – There But For The Grace of God Go I

We get facts before making knee-jerk decisions on the incident scene. Why do we fail to do this everywhere else?

I sat down to write this not to defend the man’s actions, but to reflect on the collective anger of the masses.  I actually picked up the story of the firefighter refusing to respond to the Tuscon shooting incident not off of Statter, as many of you may have, but from a news aggregator on Twitter.  I immediately went to the story and while I had to wince at what occurred, I was even more disappointed in the troll activity, which didn’t take long to build.

Before I even went to see what our beloved Fire News blogs like Statter, Fire Daily, Fire Critic, et al had to say (and what you all had to say), I felt it important to say this piece about what went on in that fire station that day.

Unless you are a Tuscon firefighter or officer who happened to be in the room at the time, YOU DON’T KNOW.  You can speculate, you can imagine, you can insinuate, and you can opinionate, but the long and short of it is that YOU DON’T KNOW.

Was the firefighter wrong for not responding?  Given what I have read so far, and in my opinion, yes, as I believe that it is important as a professional responder to put my personal feelings aside when called to duty.  But I wasn’t there.  I have no idea what was going on in the station.  I don’t know what was going through the firefighter’s head when he got the call.  I don’t know what he knew, or what he believed he knew, and I don’t profess to understand what he was going through.  But we are dealing with human beings, and not machines, and on occasion, events transpire which cause even the most hardened “hero” to individualize the situation and for whatever reason, experience emotions that we can’t assume are rational or even explainable.

There have been many documented cases where someone froze in the heat of battle because of some emotional trigger.  There is a great piece on the differences between choking and panicking that Malcolm Gladwell writes about in What The Dog Saw.  Conversely, there are those who were emotionally triggered and acted WAY out of character when faced with a traumatic event, by charging suicidally up a hill to single-handedly take on a machine gun nest, or diving on a grenade, or lifting a heavy object off of someone, when none of those actions were really planned or even considered.  The human mind is an amazing place; some of you should visit it sometime.

Those of you so quick to judge should consider walking a mile in someone else’s shoes sometime.  For all we know, the individual involved may have been short-timing it.  But you know, on the other hand, he might not have, either.  When you know for sure what was going on, feel free to share it with us.  Until then, maybe you should STFU in the hopes that if this, God forbid, happens to you someday, you won’t have your guts pulled out and spread to the four corners of the planet like some many of you are willing to do on a regular basis.

I’m willing to hear what happened and keep my opinion to myself instead of trying the guy on the World Wide Web.  Kangaroo courts went out of vogue back around the time lynching was considered to be a crime against humanity. Get the facts before making a judgment.  It’ll pay off in more ways than one.

  • ChiefReason

    I am still reading your stuff and I must say, your usual well calibrated calm is missing from this blog…
    And I like it.
    Gut check served with a gut punch.
    I have found limited info on this story and have reserved comment for that reason.
    But the wingnuts are definitely working overtime.
    Excellent blog.

  • http://www.firehousezen.com truck6alpha

    I appreciate the feedback. It just occurs to me how many brave souls are running around out there who are obviously capable of CMH heroics, if you read their posts, without thinking even for the moment there might be extenuating circumstances for a guy with 28 years on the job and above average evaluations to say, “no, thanks” on this incident.

    Do I approve of the decision? From my vantage point, absolutely not. But I don’t have the whole story, either. I hope I am never in a position where I have to make a decision where my credibility is put on the line like this, but as we say in the special ops world, if you aren’t ready and your head isn’t in this, we need to know before the call, not in the middle of it.

    Thanks for reading, as usual.


  • Jason

    You are right, we do not know what was going on in his head, nor will we ever know for that matter. When it come to responding to incidents everyone has a trigger, and when that trigger is pulled we have no control over it, all the training, experience and fortitude will not help you at that time. It is unfortunate for those involved when it happens, for those who need the help and for those who are unable to respond. For all we know the person in question may have been retiring due to the fact that they could not “do the job” any more, when one reaches that point it is best to step away.

  • Natalie

    Well written sir,

    I had to take decisions, whether to put my men at risk or not, and do have to live with it. To be judged or questioned does not bring anyone back to life or changes anything.

    In this case I am certain that, after 28 years of service, this mans gut feeling, could not have being that wrong, or he would probably not be alive anymore.
    The only heroes I know are dead! So as described in another Gladwell book “Blink” thin slicing, comes with experience. (The term thin-slicing obviously meaning making very quick decisions with minimal amounts of information.) That man deserves our support, respect and loyalty, if nothing more, then for his decisions in the past.

  • http://www.firehousezen.com truck6alpha

    Natalie and Jason,

    Thanks for commenting. Natalie, I’m a huge Gladwell fan and you’re right, that thin-slicing may have been in effect here. I get the impression there was a lot going on in that station on that day. Like I said, his decision took a lot of courage. Was it the correct decision? I can’t say that. But this incident doesn’t sound like one where somebody wussed out; I think there’s more in play here.

    Jason, you are right about that trigger. And I have worked with those for whom that trigger goes off at virtually anything, and I am friends and colleagues with a few who have seen the world crashing down around them with no emotional response from them, only to be tripped up by an article of clothing, or a sound, or the color of the patient’s hair. To this day, when I hear a Scott PASS going off, the hair on my arms goes up, after hearing so many of them over and over after 9/11. I really identified with our FDNY brothers through all that and really internalized some of those emotions. But when I hear that PASS, it just brings the memories back up again and I wasn’t even there.

    Stay safe and thanks for reading.


  • Peter Lupkowski

    Mick Mayers,
    I too immediately noticed the change in tenor from your usual posts. Yet it enveloped me at once. How quickly we all rush to judgement without a snippit of fact.
    Thanks for continuing to ground us and educate us despite ourselves.

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  • Svend

    I can understand the public’s reaction.
    If there is an issue preventing him from responsding to emergencies hen the individual should not be in the position to respond.

    There are admin and other jobs that need to be done and that’s where he should be at this point in time. Rather, this individual was in a responding position – and drawing the pay and benefits – and from the outside ‘refused’ to respond. Whatever the reason was, the public sees what it sees – hence the anger.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Deputy Fire Chief - Operations Division for Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services  National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.
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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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