In Defense of Jumping

“”I think it takes a particular coward to criticize procedures that you don’t understand particularly when they apply to places that you don’t have the bravery to go,” FDNY Battalion Chief John Sullivan said. “

Friday the 23rd families and members of the FDNY gathered togther at a church in the Bronx and one in Brooklyn. There they memorialized the life of Lieutenant Curtis Meyran, Lieutenant John Bellew and Firefighter Richard Sclafani. These men were killed in two seperate fires, widely known as ‘Black Sunday’.

During the week preceeding the mass a trial began regarding the fire in the Bronx. The former building owner and two tenants are being charged with manslaughter. In between the parts about illegal renovations, SROs and not being issued ropes there is a cruel twist being put on the survivors, the ones who fell and lived, and on the widows and families. The defense attorneys are placing the blame on the survivors themselves.

“There was no water on the third floor for about 10 minutes and I don’t think you have to be a genius to figure out fire goes up and where does it go up? To the next apartment and there was no water on that apartment either,” attorney David Goldstein said.”

“Testimony got contentious when Cool refused to acknowledge his situation was dangerous, saying “I can’t answer it yes or no.” A defense attorney shot back: “Look, you gotta stop helping the prosecution and just answer the question.””

“Later, the same attorney asked Cool, “In your experience as a firefighter, don’t you expect water to be put on the fire below you?” The firefighter responded, “I still can’t answer it yes or no.” The defense argued Cool and his fellow firefighters should have evacuated, and that infuriated the courtroom of firefighters.”

It is bad enough that you arrive at a working fire in an OMD, start the stretch, the search, get sent to look for the occupant and baby on the floor above, and deal with a frozen hydrant and burst length, but to have to defend your actions after having fallen four stories, endured pain and long continual rehab, as well as to never return to work, that is a pain probably more intense than the fall itself.

In a age where John Q. Public still doesn’t install smoke detectors, puts hot fireplace ashes in a paper bag on the rear deck, and tries to fight the fire before calling 9-1-1, a defense attorney has snidely leveled knowing fire behavior to having basic common sense. Now, not only do we (firefighters) have to do our jobs ‘right’, if heaven forbid something bad happens, we may have to defend ourselves if it is us that want restitution. Maybe this is why some departments have officers that constantly hesitate to make a decision. Maybe they are full of fear of what might happen if they make the wrong decision and one of their people gets injured or killed.

I used to wonder if the family of Firefighter Sclafani ever felt slighted by the slant of focus when Black Sunday is discussed or written about. After reading what Jeffery Cool had to go through in a Bronx courtroom this month, I think they might appreciate being in the shadow.

Handie Talkie Transcripts, Bronx Box 3-3 2997 23 January 2005

FDNY ‘Black Sunday’ Trial Gets Heated Coverage
Hose Flaw Noted in ‘Black Sunday’ Fire
(links to all Black Sunday news stories and related content are in the above article)

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