Misguided Anger

Sometimes reality needs to smack you like a 2 x 4 to the head.


It’s funny, this techo-culture of social networking life and real life, past and present. Earlier this day FirefighterNation.com and other fire websites as well as media outlets ran the story of an Evansville Indiana apartment fire and rescue. Apartment fires across this country are a dime a dozen, but what made this one newsworthy were the photographs by Jason Clark of The Evansville Courier & Press.

Click onto the image and you can see more photos, courtesy of the Associated Press, as well as read of the hard work by Evansville’s firefighters. You can also read about the fact that no smoke detectors were found in the apartment building.

The building owner is facing a $2,500.00 fine.

Of the three occupants rescued, the two children are in critical condition.

The mother was kept on life support so doctors could begin the processes involved in organ donation.

Sad, right?

No. What is really sad is the anger at the photos. For example,

“Distasteful picture. Citizens already know what we do when we can, it doesn’t require visually graphic accounts. Good job FFs.”

“Very sad , good job guys ! No need in having that pic up though please remove !”

“As a fellow Firefighter I ask/pleaad of whom posted photo to please be kind hearted & remove it. Thank you in advance & Thank you Fellow Firefighters for all you do, Stay Safe!”

“- as an assistant minister and former Chaplin for our fire dept., i agree that the picture should be taken down.”

“The FF’s did a great job but I also have to agree. Facebook, however, is certainly one place this photo does not need to be. Out of respect for the family and children, please remove the photo. Thank you.”

“I am a firefighter myself and the public dosen’t need to see what we as firefighter sometimes need counseling for the pic needs to go!”

That’s just a few. To be fair and balanced, here are some favorable views,

“Tragic story, heartbreaking photo, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. Those of us who are not FF don’t have a clue about the realities of the job.”

“The photo needs to stay up, and every politician in the country needs to get a glossy 8X10 of this picture. These are the kind of pictures that actually get politicians and citizens to demand answers to questions about staffing etc.”

“If it was my child I would be very thankful for the firefighters that rescued my child. And a picture of my ALIVE child would make me happy.”

“Why don’t you all write the TV stations and the local newspapers that are showing the pics as well. No one said anything about the people falling to their death 9/11 or the pic of the small child the firefighter was carrying from the Oklahoma blast.”

“And how many people had cell phones out recording it. Trust me the pic and video was all over the net before the fire was out.”

This one is my personal favorite,

“Just an observation: this was far from being the most graphic pic that was made available online through the Associated Press. We don’t have to like it, much like most of the photos of 9/11, but they are out there and we do have a free press. Just sayin’… Life’s tough. Wear a cup.”

Years ago Firehouse.com ran an image from a tragic Beltsville fire where a firefighter from the understaffed engine company was burned bailing out while trying to search for a girl trapped in the fire. He went to the hospital and she died.

The image was a very good cover and it was also used by the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department Local 1619 on a billboard opposing cuts to the department.

So tell me, why the anger?

Why is that in a time when any junior or Explorer without supervision, or a seasoned veteran with a slip of the mind, can post anything, even stupid stuff, and it becomes popular and shared more than anything and this, Evansville, is ‘poor taste’?

Everyone loves to coattail on the heroism, and belly up to the bar and rail against the politicians, the bean-counters and even that guy from Sweden who said we need to question our tactics, and a photo that can be used to promote smoke detectors, fire inspections and general fire safety is ‘disrespectful’?

Surely such an image can be exploited, but this is news.

Sometimes like life, the news sucks.

Eddie Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the above photo of South Vietnamese National Police Chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong officer with a single pistol shot in the head in Saigon, Vietnam on Feb. 1, 1968. I’m sure Mr. Adams took some flak over the photo, but in the end it is one that captures a dimension of the war and everything associated with it.

Jason Clark’s photos may not win a Pulitzer, but they remind everyone who sees them of what you do, your main mission. You may be dealing with water leaks, sealing off a hazardous material spill, getting a cat out of tree or soft-posting in a violent neighborhood, but at the end of the day, this is what the “customer” expects.

At the end of the day the “customer”, and some of you, need to be reminded of this.

Life’s tough, wear a cup.

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4 thoughts on “Misguided Anger”

  1. Bill,

    I am the father of three young girls. And the picture moves me. Like being thrown in a cold pool and told to swim, if people can’t get the message that smoke detectors save lives, maybe they should undergo a lifetime of images like these. Because honestly, those of us who have made a grab like this do have to live with a lifetime of those images.

    Distasteful? Yes, in the sense that nobody should have ever put those children in a home with no smoke detectors. Or in the sense that firefighters all over our nation are having to continually do more with less. Or perhaps that on the 10th Anniversary of September 11, firefighters hailed as heroes at Ground Zero are now having to fight to have their illnesses recognized as being caused by being there.

    This image, like what happens when I see or hear any bad news involving children, makes me want to hug my girls, tell them I love them, and resolve to never put them in harm’s way out of laziness, because its not like you can’t get a free detector or batteries through any fire department. Hell, many will even install it for you.

    I think you’re right, Bill, and while I wish we never had to see a scene like that, I appreciate the meaning behind it. And if it were being shared as a “trophy shot” on Facebook instead of what it was, news, I would agree with the negative comments. Otherwise, it is tragic, but poignant

  2. At a time when firefighters are under attack from all sides (civilian and political) I think the pictures are especially needed and poignant. These pictures illustrate what training, staffing and availability (rolling brown-outs, company closures etc.) are all about. Enough said about those.

    I would like to ask another question, however, that I kept thinking as I read the comments above. Why is there no outrage or flood of comments when a stricken firefighter is shown all over the internet, nightly news and newspapers? Are the arguments about respect, sensitivity to family and the depiction of the harshness of our job somehow negated when it is one of our own? Or is it just a twisted sense of duty or pride that some firefighters take in seeing another brother or sister make the ultimate sacrifice? The only time I can ever think of in recent memory that sparked any response similar was when Fire Engineering used the re-creation of Denver firefighter Mark Langvardt’s death as a cover photo. And many of those comments were misguided in that they thought the picture was actually of firefighter Langvardt’s body, instead of the manikin used to come up with what we all now know as the “Denver Drill”.

    I wish our brothers and sisters who found the Evansville pictures so distasteful would comment on this subject.

  3. As a retired firefighter turned fire service photographer I want to just add this, the images from Evansville did precisely what the photographer wanted them to do. They invoked an emotional response from people viewing them. The anger or outrage was directed in the wrong place though.
    Be angry. Be angry that the building owner only got fine $2500. Be angry that the building did not have life saving smoke detectors. Be angry that someone died as a result of the fire when it was completely unneccesary. Be angry that children were hurt as a result of someones greed and complacency. Don't be angry that someone posted a picture online.
    Those images tell a story. They tell the viewer a sad tale about a fire where children were injured needlessly and firefighters bravey entered a burning building to bring those children out before they perished in the fire. 
    Be outraged! But be outraged that it happened, not that it was documented and the world was allowed to see it. If those images serve to move one person to correct problems in a home or building that will save even one life, they have done thier job!

  4. Very good article. As Chief Zen… I am very moved by this photo, I have 4 and 7 boys, and am horrified by the photo. I feel this way because it was a preventable photo. Smoke detectors… sprinklers… nuff said.
    as stated in the article… Life’s tough, wear a cup.

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