[cifnmedia] Fwd: [firenet] Stop calling firefighters "heroes."

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 20:09:36 -0800 (PST)

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

Get email for your site ---> http://www.everyone.net
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  • From: brh339@xxxxxxxx
  • To: affiliates@xxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2003 18:09:36 -0500
Let's not lower ourselves and buy this guys book.   Bruce :-)) 

Smoke and Mirrors
Stop calling firefighters "heroes."
By Douglas Gantenbein
Posted Friday, October 31, 2003, at 12:05 PM PT 

A cush job, most of the time
When California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the state's
catastrophic wildfires a few days ago, he uttered the phrase that now
accompanies any blaze as surely as smoke: "The firefighters are the true
It's understandable why he said that. As fires go, the California blazes
are scary. They are moving incredibly quickly through dried brush and
chaparral that practically explode when they ignite, threatening the life
of any firefighter nearby. Steven L. Rucker, a 38-year-old firefighter
and paramedic for the town of Novato, was killed working to save houses.
Elsewhere, thousands of firefighters have worked for hours on end in
95-degree heat, dressed in multiple layers of fire-resistant clothing,
sometimes without enough food or water because of the long and shifting
supply lines.
Given all that, it may seem churlish to suggest that firefighters might
not deserve the lofty pedestal we so insistently place them on. We
lionize them, regard them as unsullied by base motivations, see them as
paragons of manliness (and very tough womanliness). They're easily our
most-admired public servants, and in the public's eye probably outrank
just about anyone except the most highly publicized war veterans. But the
"hero" label is tossed around a little too often when the subject is
firefighting. Here's why:

Firefighting is a cushy job. Firefighters may have the best work schedule
in the United States?24 hours on, 48 hours off. And those 24 hours are
usually not terribly onerous. While a few big-city fire stations may have
four, five, six calls, or more during a shift, most aren't nearly that
busy, giving firefighters time to give tours to school kids, barbecue
hamburgers, wash fire engines, sleep, and pose for "The Firefighters of
[Your City Here], 2004" calendars. Indeed, fire officials devote much of
their time to figuring out how to cover up the fact they're not getting
the hoses out very often. So we have firefighters doing ambulance work,
firefighters doing search-and-rescue work, anything but Job No. 1.
Meanwhile, the long days off give many firefighters a chance to start
second careers. That makes it easy for them to retire after 20 years,
take a pension, and start another profession. I've known firefighters who
moonlighted as builders, photographers, and attorneys. 
Firefighting isn't that dangerous. Of course there are hazards, and about
100 firefighters die each year. But firefighting doesn't make the
Department of Labor's 2002 list of the 10 most dangerous jobs in America.
Loggers top that one, followed by commercial fishermen in the No. 2 spot,
and general-aviation commercial pilots (crop dusters and the like) at No.
3. Firefighting trails truck-driving (No. 10) in its risks. Pizza
delivery drivers (No. 5) have more dangerous jobs than firefighters,
statistically speaking. And fatalities, when they occur in firefighting,
often are due to heart attacks and other lack-of-fitness problems, not
fire. In those cases where firefighters die in a blaze, it's almost
always because of some unbelievable screw-up in the command chain. It's
been well-documented, for instance, that lousy communication was a huge
reason why so many firefighters still were in the burning World Trade
Center when it imploded, and well after city police and port authority
police had been warned by their own commanders of an imminent collapse
and cleared out. 
Firefighters are adrenalin junkies. I did mountain rescue work for
several years and more than once was praised as a "hero." Oh, give me a
break. It was fun and exciting. Firefighting is even more of a rush.
Sharon Waxman, in an excellent article in the Washington Post,
interviewed firefighters in California. Every one was in a complete
lather to get to the next hot spot. "It's almost a slugfest to get in
there," one told Waxman. This urge to reach the fire is not entirely
altruistic. It sure beats washing that damned fire truck again, for one
thing. Plus a big fire is thrilling, plain and simple. 
Firefighters have excellent propaganda skills. Firefighters play the hero
card to its limit. Any time a big-city firefighter is killed on duty,
that city will all but shut down a few days later while thousands of
firefighters line the streets for a procession. In July 2001, 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). For the families of the four dead
firefighters?three of whom were teens trying to make a few bucks for
college?the parade, the solemn speeches, and the quasi-military trappings
all were agony. "It's just the firefighters doing their thing," one
bystander said to me later with a shrug. 
Firefighters are just another interest group. Firefighters use their
heroic trappings to play special interest politics brilliantly. It is a
heavily unionized occupation. Nothing's wrong with that, but let's not
assume they're always acting in anything but their own best interests. In
Seattle not long ago a squabble broke out between police and firefighters
when both were called to the scene of a capsized dinghy in a lake. The
firefighters put a diver in the water, a police officer on the scene
ordered him out to make way for a police team, and all hell broke loose
(yes, the cops were at fault, too). The dispute wasn't over public
safety, it was over who got the glory. New York firefighters, admittedly
deep in grief over lost co-workers, exacerbated the challenge of body
recovery operations after 9/11 by insisting on elaborate removal
procedures for each firefighter uncovered, an insult to others who died
there. Not long before that, in Boston, a special commission released a
scathing report that detailed a 1,600-member fire department up to its
bunker gear in racism, sexism, and homophobia. Since then the department
has bitterly resisted reform efforts. 
None of this is meant to dispute that firefighters aren't valuable to the
communities in which they work. They are. But our society is packed with
unheralded heroes?small-town physicians, teachers in poverty-stricken
neighborhoods, people who work in dirty, dangerous jobs like coal-mining
to support a family. A firefighter plunging into a burning house to
retrieve a frightened, smoke-blinded child is a hero. But let's save the
encomiums for when they are truly deserved, not when they just show up to
do their job. 

MSN Shopping

Douglas Gantenbein is the author of A Season of Fire: Four Months on the
Firelines in America's West. 

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