Vacant Hyperbole, or”Janet Doesn’t Ride Here”

“That being said, let’s be honest: who hears about fires in an abandoned building and doesn’t wonder about the rest of the story? We all do, but who decides whether vagrants are worth looking for in a burning building?”

The above quote is taken from Fire Chief magazine’s Janet Wilmoth, in her own commentary response on a post, since removed, questioning the death of two Chicago firefighters in December. Wilmoth wrote about a blog post from former Chesterfield (Va.) Battalion Chief Robert Avsec. Avsec is listed as a contributor to Fire Chief Magazine’s Mutual Aid Blog. He also is the creator of TheFireSafetyProtectionPro blog, presenting fire safety information. Avsec wrote about the Chicago fire in December and made the statement that the tragic collapse was due to the bowstring trusses being burnt through. His post took some significant heat, especially within Facebook communities, and has since been taken down. It’s not known whether or not Avsec took it down or Fire Chief Magazine took it down. Does it matter? Kind of, since while I may not agree with it, I am respectful of the conversation afterward.

That’s odd…I don’t see her name here.
Maybe she was detailed out?

The rub is that Wilmoth’s post also took some heat and it does nothing for us. Contradicting the title of her own post, “It’s Too Soon For Hard Questions In Chicago”, she shares the New Orleans fire that killed eight, recent vacant building fire training from the U.S.F.A., and a 2009 article about the NFPA saying the threat of “empty building fires” has grown.

The technology, as I’ve mentioned before, gives us greater access to the incident details as well as greater opportunity to voice our thoughts. Avsec was doing that and took some flak for it. So did Chief Murphy when he alluded to rats in his Fire Engineering post. Funny, now that I think about it, Ray McCormack took some hits too for his “speech”. In each example, an editor stepped in and made comments, some call damage control or spin. Does it matter? Maybe. While we may not agree, tactically, I’m certain that we agree on the sentiment of such volatile posts – firefighter safety. None of us wants to see a firefighter die. On top all of this fire-service soap opera drama, only one site brought news of a popular “vacant fire city” doing what it can to eliminate the vacant building problem. What a solution! Take away the vacant building and we significantly reduce the risk. I suppose though that news of bulldozers and politics isn’t interesting, even though it has a far greater impact on your safety than estimating the value of worth of an occupant. “Detroit On Target For Demolishing 3,000 Vacant Homes”, FirefighterNation

When sentiment and emotions increasingly call for changes in tactics, and make allusions to the occupants inside we need to seriously consider the source. As we’ve written before on here, your sizeup should be an intelligent, safe one based on the conditions facing you and including the resources being immediately deployed. It should also be influenced by:
-Your Chief Officers
-Your Company Officer
-Your SOPs
-Your Training

It should not be influenced simply by commentary. Everyone has worth, value. It is the fire that restricts us from rescuing them.

“- but who decides whether vagrants are worth looking for in a burning building?”

You tell me. I thought it was too soon for that kind of question.

Riding assignment board photo courtesy of

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  • firehat says:

    I’ve made the comment on other blogs and I will repeat it here. Why does anyone still take seriously anything Janet Wilmoth has to say? Or Fire Chief magazine, for that matter?

    She is an embarrassment to the fire service and should not be treated as a legitimate voice in the discussion.

  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    But she is a voice. You and I may not lend any credence to what she has to say, but others will.

    With so much emphasis on “Everyone Going Home” no matter what the cost, it is article like Ms. Wilmoth’s that ask about “worth” and Murphy’s that categorize people that will change the direction the Fire Service is going.

    We are on our way to a world where you will have to justify going in to search, not the other way around. And articles like Wilmoth’s and Avsec’s are steering that ship.

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