[cifnmedia] Don't buy the book (FF's are not Hero's)

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 3 Nov 2003 13:48:51 -0800 (PST)

Updated: 11-03-2003 12:48:40 PM

Slate Commentary: Are Firefighters Heroes? Not Automatically, But Don't Be Rude 
About It
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Few times over the years have I personally been so fired up about something 
someone says about the fire service. Being involved in the fire department for 
nearly 18 years, and being part of Firehouse.com, its pretty much the norm to 
not be surprised at this point by what someone says about firefighters -- the 
good and bad -- or what firefighters themselves say and do. 

But something I read this evening, and that countless others -- firefighters 
and civilians, too -- have read, is nothing less than shocking and disturbing. 

A scathing commentary by wildfire author Douglas Gantenbein on the Internet web 
site Slate.com, singles out firefighters as leveraging their daily job 
inappropriately to call themselves heroes. 

The commentary by Gantenbein, the author of "A Season of Fire: Four Months on 
the Firelines in America's West," appeared on the site Friday and has generated 
substantial reaction from firefighters across the country. 

"The 'hero' label is tossed around a little too often when the subject is 
firefighting," he wrote, specifically singling out several aspects of the job 
suggesting to the general public that firefighters get too much admiration: 

Firefighting is a cushy job 
Firefighting isn't that dangerous 
Firefighters are adrenalin junkies 
Firefighters have excellent propaganda skills 
Firefighters are just another interest group 
This isn't about pointing out a few things you feel about firefighters. I don't 
personally believe every firefighter in America is a hero. Certainly not. But 
... it's how the commentary is presented that makes it tasteless, and pitiful. 

It's not about making a point, it's about making it in such a manner to presume 
no effort has been made to understand how the firefighting family works ... 
despite writing a book about us. 

In a particularly over the top statement, the author goes so far as to suggest 
that a ladder arch at a firefighter's funeral is inappropriate: 

"I witnessed the tasteless spectacle of Washington state firefighters staging a 
massive public display to "honor" four young people killed in a forest fire 
(one absurd touch: hook-and-ladder rigs extended to form a huge arch over the 
entrance to the funeral hall)," Gantenbein wrote. 

Sadly, the death of those four young firefighters is the same 'tragedy lies at 
the heart' of his book. Oh, the humanity, a huge arch ... sorry the spectacle 
is so disturbing. 

Never have I heard someone call such a tribute tasteless, and certainly not 
absurd. Does the word heartless come to mind? Or perhaps you're already getting 
sick to the stomach. 

So let's recount his statements ... with my own commentary after: 

Firefighting is a cushy job - If you are doing something you love, any job is 
cushy. Last time I checked, firefighters don't make a million bucks. We put our 
lives on the line when it's needed the most. Does that make us automatic 
heroes? No. Only when the moment comes to be a hero, does one become a hero. 
But does that make it appropriate to tear apart the traditions of the fire 
service in memorializing our own? Absolutely not. 
Firefighting isn't that dangerous - Getting safer and safer every day, 
absolutely. But just ask the two firefighters in Baltimore County earlier 
tonight who were trapped after a routine call turned into near tragedy how 
dangerous it is. 
Firefighters are adrenaline junkies - Don't you have to be to want to rush into 
a burning building? Are some firefighters over the top and it's more about the 
rush than the intent to save lives? Sure. But is that rush no different than 
any other job where the person loves what they're doing, just perhaps a bit 
Firefighters have excellent propaganda skills - We save lives. We are there for 
people when they most need someone there for them. It's not propoganda. It's 
doing our job. We're not heroes for doing our job, no. But propoganda? 
Firefighters are just another interest group - Just another, eh. What public 
interest is there in trashing the funeral of firefighters? Book sales down? 
Don't stop now, read the whole thing, it will make the sickness in the pit of 
your stomach quickly turn to anger, and disgust. Is every point he makes wrong? 
No. Does some of what he says translate well to some firefighters who may use 
the hero moniker for their own greed? Yes. Does that warrant trashing the 
majority of firefighters and making them out to be glory seeking, adrenaline 
addicted, self serving idiots? Please. 

In the commentary's final paragraph, the author attempts to save face a tad by 
penning, "A firefighter plunging into a burning house to retrieve a frightened, 
smoke-blinded child is a hero," but it is too little too late in what can only 
be described as one of the most anti-firefighter pieces in recent memory. 

While I normally wouldn't encourage anyone to wade through something like this, 
I encourage each of you to read the entire commentary and make your own 

Freedom of speech and the American way permit Douglas Gantenbein to say 
whatever he feels, wherever and whenever. But my guess is America's 
firefighters aren't going to like the manner in which the point is made. 

A hero is many things. Not just firefighters. Anyone can indeed be a hero. 
Earlier this year, I wrote a commentary about a firefighter who was intoxicated 
and killed a young fire explorer while responding to a fire. Clearly, not all 
firefighters are heroes. 

But, insulting an entire community of people who simply do their jobs every day 
... many for free ... and then go to the extremes of bashing a firefighters 
funeral as 'absurd' and 'tasteless', is simply wrong. 

Or, more directly, is itself absurd and tasteless. 

Feel free to post your comments in the Firehouse.com Forums, or better yet also 
click here to contact the Slate and let them hear it. You can also visit the 
author's Web site ... be sure to get his book autographed. 

Discuss It: Firehouse.com Forums

ASeasonofFire.com: Gantenbein's Book Web Site

About the Author: Dave J. Iannone is the co-founder and Publisher of 
Firehouse.com, and Vice President of Interactive Publishing for Cygnus Business 
Media. He is a 17-year veteran of the fire and EMS service, and serves as the 
Chairman of the Board and Vice President of the Hyattsville (Md) Volunteer Fire 


Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

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