Truth: Let’s Find The Scapegoat

My colleague and someone I respect, Dave Statter, happened to share an article today that has a few of you riled up.  The article was in regard to information that three of the deceased firefighters from the West, Texas tragedy, had the presence of alcohol or marijuana in their systems when they perished. Some of the comments on his page have me trying to figure out how Dave ends up being the bad guy for sharing the truth, not just about this event, but others.  Maybe a little truth and reality is what is needed in the fire service right now.  There are a number of us telling you all the truth and you simply don't want to hear it.

Before I start in on "the truth", let me say that I am certainly conflicted over this report.  I don't for a minute condone response with the possibility of drugs or alcohol being found in your system.  That said, the people of West, and especially the firefighters, all knew what would happen if a fire got out of control at that particular occupancy.  I don't know that if I were sitting around, having had a few beers, if knowing that our community's worst possible case scenario was unfolding that I could have restrained myself. Would it be the right thing to stay away?  Would it be the right thing to go? I wasn't there. I'm not going to judge.

On another hand, save those of us on scene the agony of having to tell you to leave if you have been engaged in that kind of activity.  We don't have time to tell you to leave.  We don't want to fight with you.  And as you can see in this case, we all know the consequences if something bad happens and they find you have amounts of stuff on board.  You may feel like you can help, but even if you were just to sprain your knee, if the chemicals are found in your system, it's going to definitely muddy the waters for you or your family to get the benefits they need.

So let's go back to Dave's situation.  I guess this is the culmination of a number of events where our community of fire and emergency response personnel have a few bad apples, someone speaks the truth, and THEY get labeled as "the problem".  The problem isn't with those of us trying to return the fire service to the rightful place in society, as a profession considered admirable by people.  The problem is with those of you who think this is a game and act like a bunch of teenage amateurs.  It's looking like it might be time for some of you to grow the fuck up.

Career or volunteer, we wear the badge of firefighter proudly for a reason.  We have this passion for the job that transcends other jobs.  We have a history, a tradition of service, valor, honor, and integrity.  When someone damages that tradition, those of us who take the job seriously get a little bent out of shape.  I have four generations behind my spot in line, all of whom were staunch advocates of those values.  When some mutt comes along and does something stupid, there are a number of us who would like to take them behind the woodshed for some reality time.  All Dave and a number of us do, like it or not, is illustrate the problem and ask that you fix it.

I'll tell you like I tell a lot of people.  If you don't want to end up with a negative article about you in the paper, then perhaps you should ensure that anything someone has to say about you will be positive.  When we have individuals in our midst that do screwed up things, then guess what?  You get screwed up articles.  Maybe instead of attacking the messenger, we need to have candid conversation about the message.  I have had a few to drink before and got the call.  I'm not going to be a hypocrite. When I was young, I felt differently.  I thought I needed to be there. I felt like I was letting my brothers down if I wasn't there.  I felt like they needed me. 

Now that I am a little wiser, I realize what a stupid belief that was.  I wish someone had this conversation with me then.  All it takes is one unplanned-for outcome and the next thing you know, you are the scourge of the community.  And worse, what if something YOU do causes injury to someone else.  Just consider if you were, say, operating the ladder from the turntable.  Pretty safe position to be in, huh?  Then the ladder has a malfunction.  It doesn't matter what you say, or how bad the product was defective, if you have any influencing substance in your bloodstream, all fingers are going to be pointing at you.  And if someone is injured or dies as a result of the incident, that will follow you for the rest of your life.

This isn't commentary about imbibing on the job, or off the job.  That's incidental to the subject, because like I said, save us the grief and don't do it.  But to say someone is constantly negative about our profession would only be fair if they were making up the story.  He's just reporting the news.  If you don't want to believe it, that's your prerogative.  But those of us who are trying to make this job a better place, well, we need to see where the problems are so we can fix them.  And if you don't like it, well, maybe you don't have the service's best interests at heart. 


  • singerff says:

    your point is well taken, but the underlying issues that were festered as the result of the autopsy report being released to the public needs to be addressed.

    • Mick Mayers says:

      I agree with what you are saying. Like I said, there are lots of issues here. My concerns were that for anyone to attack Dave was out of line, and then the fact that we have a lot of work we need to do to clean up our image, so its not fair to blame the people who bring bad news.

      Rather, we need to work through the challenges and rein in some of the problem children that seem to end up on the front pages. I think the autopsy report could have been considered a little differently, but then, on the other hand, it does have some reason to be talked about.

    • Grant IronHorse Mishoe says:

      I don’t see an issue with it. Why is it such a problem that the autopsy report (which is in the public domain) was released stating everything we knew happened to them (with the exception of the ETOH and THC). We all knew they died of blunt force and thermal burns. The problem is everyone thinks they are bashing them because of the substance findings. The attack on Dave was WAY out of line. I think the publishing of the actual report was a bit over the top but I will not stand against it. You didn’t see this uproar when the results were released on the 2 Boston FF’s killed in a fire and drunk. I mean the double standards in this country are frickin’ hilarious. You cannot have it both ways. Good post Mick.

  • PeriMedic says:

    Whether we are volunteers or career, we are supposed to be professionals. Professionals do not go to work intoxicated or high. In a small town with an emergency at the ER, I don’t want the surgeon to respond to do emergency surgery after drinking; and people would have a fit if his response to the death of his patient was “But I was trying to help.” What if this was a volunteer EMS provider who gave too much morphine or crashed the ambulance because he/she was .12? That only they were killed and not innocent others is merely a blessing, not an excuse. It is unethical to make excuses for these guys.

    As far as reporting it, I also don’t see the problem. If this were a police officer who was killed doing his job, and it turned-out he was drunk it would be front page news–and often is. Volunteer or career, we are public servants and answerable to the people for our actions on duty. Cops go to jail now for making honest, sober mistakes; imagine if one was .158.

    I have spent 30 years in police, fire, and EMS–paid and volunteer. If we want the public to respect us, trust us, and support us, we need to act like professionals whether we get a paycheck or not; that fact is irrelevant to the people we are there to protect and serve. Many idiots keep their head in the sand or function with a “not me” cavalier attitude. Those people need to hear about these situations to learn from them.

    • mr618 says:

      PeriMedic, I agree completely (there, how’s *that* for making your whole day, having someone you’ve never heard of agree with you?).
      And — unfortunately — it goes far beyond this case, encompassing all the other stupid, illegal, and/or morally questionable actions of some of our brothers and sisters. Statter, of course, has been on top of this, along with FireGeezer, Curt Varone, and virtually every other emergency services blogger I’m aware of (except for the now-defunct “Beat and Release”).
      We must clean up our collective act, otherwise, some outside entity will do it for us. And if you want to know how that goes over, ask any NYPD officer about the CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board).
      This means no being under the influence on calls, no hiring hookers and siccing them onto handicapped citizens doing housework at the station, no sleeping with the Explorers, no tapping the department for personal expenses, no running hooker rings from the station, no choking out a medic for “dissing” you, no kicking a cuffed, seated woman cause you felt threatened, no pepper-spraying peaceful protesters, no diverting drugs from the box for your own use, no flipping off photographers at parades, no sexual comments aimed at coworkers, no taking the law into your own hands (are you listening, Oath Keepers?), etc, etc, ad infinitum.
      In other words, if you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of the NY Times, Washington Post, or LA Times…

  • firefighter zero says:

    I know in my area insecurity is the reason we don’t tolerate bad news about the fire dept. But at the same time, we never seem to learn from our mistakes.
    I am reminded of a reality tv star from a show about saving failing restaurants. He did not care about the positive feed back, only the negative. He figured how could he ever improve if all he heard was the customers blowing smoke up his ass? I realize my thought processes are rambling, but I think news stories like these should be used as learning events, how else can we improve customer service if all we ever pay attention to is the good stuff?

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