Never Ask the Dead

Teaching is of more importance than urging. – Martin Luther

By Bill Carey

Originally published 23 March 2013.

During the course of this week the anniversary of a line of duty death appeared on Facebook and with it the expected shares and comments. What was noticeable to me of one page’s sharing was a simple question about a generality in the tragedy and one reaction.

The page making the post did not specifically point out any glaring error, but shared the anniversary event in a way that was respectful, thought provoking and stimulating a discussion. The comment that caught my eye said, paraphrased, that we should learn from the tragedy but, NEVER question the victim’s actions. [Caps are by the commenter].

Never question the actions.

That is so terribly sad and so terribly wrong.

It is also quite hypocritical and illogical. I understand that the anniversaries of the deaths of firefighters during fireground operations stir many emotions but can we put aside emotion for a moment and have a sensible discussion?

Let us be brutally honest. In this socially technical age we live in, the sharing of someone else’s sentiment, opinion and other material can be easily done without even taking the time to invest in the knowledge of the material itself. With the click of a button we can quickly associate ourselves to a cause, mission, culture and more. We can also commiserate with those who have experienced tragedy. Through the speed of the internet we can endorse various facts, theories and more with a simple ‘Like’ never having to really provide our actual working knowledge of whatever it is we are agreeing to.

But in this easy electronic association, learning becomes lost and in the case of never questioning something, learning is deliberately kicked to the curb. Are we really that foolish to believe that we can learn from tragedy yet never question the why? Logically it cannot be done. To learn from a mistake we have to know what the cause of the mistake was. To know the cause we have to investigate the reasons how thoughts and actions leading to the tragedy were conceived. Any counselor worth their license will tell you that change comes from honestly identifying the reasons “why”.

It is odd, this sharing and commiserating of fire service tragedies through social media. Being more brutally honest let us admit that we really only share the big, “popular” tragedies. The ones from New York City, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. get the legs. It’s true that some of the victims from lesser municipalities and departments get their NIOSH report passed around but you don’t see it as much when compared to the larger locations. What we know happens is the link is shared and we say ‘remember fallen brothers’ or ‘learn from this and honor their sacrifice’ but we only do this with the popular ones. When was the last time you saw someone sharing NIOSH report F2000-22? You have probably never seen it because it comes from South Dakota and involves a wildfire. We don’t share every single LODD anniversary because not everyone is popular. Seriously think to when you saw a report from years ago shared that involved an apparatus crash or even a medical issue on the fireground? They’re not ‘cool.’ Don’t even bother with the medical ones as they are definitely not cool. They don’t involve attacking the fire or searching for occupants. We only share the cool working job ones. While there are a few arguments about the impact of lessons from these reports that are not cool, we cannot deny that lessons from them do exist. In most of these examples (vehicle operations, physical health) we can still learn especially if we have questions, but the impact may be on a smaller personal level.

So when someone says it is okay to learn from a tragedy but to never question the actions of the victims what they, and others who agree with that thought, are saying is ‘don’t ask personally because I’m afraid to find out I may have done the same thing and been lucky enough not to be killed.’ Think it over; why would you not want to ask and learn especially if it could result in actions that would save your life or the lives of those working with you?

It lies in pride, a haughtiness that gushes over with phrases of “brotherhood”, RFB-KTF and t-shirt slogans in place of proven wisdom. You would be better off to have the faith of the captain of the Titanic if you believe in questioning but never asking. I say screw your “brotherhood” if you believe you should not ask in a respectful way, because if every single firefighter killed in the line of duty could come back and speak to us today, they would most certainly tell us what it is in our hearts we want to know but are too scared, too proud, to ask.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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