Saturday, January 30, 2010

Caveat Lectores on Rushing to Judgment

I am seeing a trend in the news concerning reports of Fire/Rescue misdeeds and nondeeds and the tragic results that can occur when somebody fails to do something or does it incorrectly.

The ultimate example happened in DeKalb County, Georgia this week when it appears that a full alarm of firefighters failed to properly investigate a reported dwelling fire and the resident of the home died. All public employees should heed the lesson from this tragic incident. Do your jobs by the rules.

If you are a fire service worker, you already heard about it. Some regular citizens have not, but eventually all will have heard the awful news. What appears to be the official report can be found at:

I can neither condemn nor defend what happened without more information that I probably will never get in my hands. What happened cannot be undone by anybody. An innocent woman is dead, and the careers of several firefighters destroyed. I suspect they will go to their graves trying to figure out why somebody did not do just a little more.

When I looked back on the hundreds of false alarms to which my crews and I responded in the middle of dark and cold nights, trying to remember whether we ever went back in service before making absolutely sure there was no fire is impossible. I suspect I may have made a call of “Code Zero” without beating on every door in the immediate vicinity of the reported address in the middle of the night. Did we set up a full incident command contingent for every alarm even when it appeared to be a false alarm? NO. Fully involved fires are easy to spot at night. Small incipient fires that have not breached are impossible to find if you do not go looking. Somebody did not look hard enough.

I guess I was lucky. It looks like many trained firefighters on that incident made a series of what appeared to be small, seemingly minor mistakes all at once with tragic results. Do your jobs by the rules.

Reports of such incidents seem more common lately. I suspect it is just “better” reporting. The press is pretty reliable about reporting heroic saves, but the screw ups make more electrifying news. There are so many good stories about the fire/rescue service they can become common place. The low down and dirty news makes interesting headlines. I hope all public employees are learning a lesson here as well.

Budget cuts, pay and benefit cuts, layoffs and reduced staffing make good morale in short supply. The management exhortation that “you should be glad you at least have a job” does not invite good will.

You must expect that at every encounter with the public there is someone looking over your shoulder with a camera phone recording what you are doing. Doing things according to the Standard Operating Procedure is the only way to go. Anything else may result in tragedy, the end of your career and maybe the end of a life.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?



Anonymous said...

Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

- Johnson

Jeff Carnes said...

Thsi was a Caveat Lectores Rant that was not fun to write.