Do Large Departments Get a Pass?

If this were the suburbs what would the reaction be?

By Bill Carey

Originally published 13 May 2015.

I understand. I’ve been there myself, on the roof, no SCBA or sometimes with SCBA but not ‘on air.’ I was younger then and with youth comes a sense of immortality and ignorance. As I became older and better informed, I changed my ways. I also understand that some departments have certain ways, unwritten, in which they operate. The various reasons range from tradition to a belief that a culturally acceptable practice has valid performance based reasons (see ‘the SCBA will throw me off-balance and cause me to fall’).


I’m not passing judgement on the Chicago Fire Department. My glass house already has enough cracked panes. What I do judge is the various reactions to images like this that tend to show a notable difference between views towards large, urban, well-known fire departments and the smaller or lesser-known departments that do the same thing. Follow any of trade magazines and websites on Facebook, or other fire service pages, and you will see a variety of comments based on a photo or video. Most tend to point out the inefficiencies and errors seen and remind us that such actions are what is killing firefighters every year.

Since the WGN TV post was done some followers have made comments about the lack of SCBA, working on a peaked roof, and cancer, to name a few. However, if you take the time to look through the various fire service Facebook pages, you can see a certain favoring of actions by the larger, urban departments that have very few critiques. Those that do usually have the common retort of those guys pictured having fought more fire than the critic has in a day, week, month, year, career, lifetime.

One of my many editors, A.J. Heightman, Editor-in-Chief of JEMS, once made the obviously profound comment about such representations when responding to the reader reactions of the New Orleans EMS crew from the popular ‘Nightwatch’ series,

“There’s action, realism, true-to-emergency service, lingo, humor and, yes, people so dedicated to their patients they often provide care at risk to themselves. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that and appreciate the hazards of patient care over self hasn’t been in EMS for a long time. I’m not saying it’s all right, I’m saying it’s reality.[1]”

Reality. We tend to forget that fires are not sterile lab environments but actual happenings where something will always go wrong or be done incorrectly.

Do you think, in the social media world, that these larger, urban departments get a free pass to do what smaller departments would be called out for?
Does it affect our education and culture?
What does it say about the Chicago Fire Department, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation video and the value of the “Everyone Goes Home” message?


1. “On the Beat with ‘Nightwatch’”, Heightman, MPA, EMT,

Image courtesy WGN TV, Facebook.

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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