To say this has been a bad two weeks for the fire service would be an understatement. We've lost FAO Daryl Gordon, of the Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department. We all viewed in horror as Captain Peter Dern, of the Fresno (CA) Fire Department, fell through the roof at a structure fire. A hostage situation at a suburban Pennsylvania fire company made the national news. And just a few minutes ago, I received the USFA notification that we lost a pilot and firefighter in a helicopter crash while they were monitoring a controlled burn.
In two cases, the hostage situation and Fresno fire, we've seen the best and worst from social media. And, that's what I'm thinking about today.
The hostage situation hit a bit close to home for me. Cheltenham Township, PA, where the incident occurred, borders my township. Just a few weeks ago my fire company was dispatched with LaMott Fire Company to a working structure fire in a school, so I've worked with LaMott firefighters. While many in the fire service viewed coverage via online streaming news feeds or cable news channels, all I had to do was turn on my local news and my two-way radio. I listened as Abington Township police officers responded into Cheltenham to handle calls for help while Cheltenham PD was tied up at the firehouse. Luckily this came to a peaceful solution.
In California, the video of Captain Dern falling through the roof quickly went viral. The video was alarming. We've all seen other videos through the years. We've seen the one where the garage door closes, trapping firefighters inside. We saw the one where three firefighters were on a commercial structure's roof and one firefighter began to fall through, but was saved by the other two. But the Fresno video--for me it was more powerful than anything I've ever seen. Captain Dern went through, and all we see is fire venting. We know he's inside, and we know he needs to get out fast.
I watched it, like everyone else, go viral. But, I've been surprised at the Monday Morning Quarterbacking. We've all seen different posts and videos where we've had to remind people about negatively analyzing an incident. If there was ever an incident that rquired us to stand fast with opinions, it's the Fresno incident.
We are firefighters. We have a natural inclination toward problem solving. When something goes wrong or something doesn't work the way it's supposed to, we question why. And, there is nothing at all wrong with that. But in cases like Fresno, let's keep it at the kitchen table.
Social media is a wonderful thing, truly, but what it has done has given millions a chance to voice their opinions about anything at all. For us, social media is not the place to voice opinions and to ask the questions. The firehouse is our forum. Sitting around the kitchen table and critiquing our own incidents as well as others we may know about is where we should be asking our questions--not on a Facebook page where you never know who you're going to offend or what is going to flare tempers. When a fellow firefighter is fighting for his life in a hospital, facing multiple surgeries, and enduring burns over 60 percent of his body, this is not the time to be asking anything on social media about the circumstances that led to his current condition.
It has bothered me, watching what's been going on. Some have said we should not be questioning at all, but I don't agree with that approach either. Let's talk. Let's learn from the Fresno incident. But let's do it at the kitchen table--not out in public. Agree or disagree, talk about it with your senior firefighters. But, keep it among yourselves. Fresno is going to look into what happened. They're going to come out with a report sooner or later describing what went right and what went wrong. But, that's for Fresno to do.
Do not stop wondering aloud about different incidents and circumstances, but let's keep it in the firehouse where it belongs.