Come on folks, we’re better than this
The recent fire in Detroit that involved a collapse that injured several firefighters has prompted, as usual, the social media outcry against firefighting inside abandoned structures. It needs to be reiterated that the escape from injury or death while operating at these fires is not the main reason for encouraging or approving going inside them. The same is said when considering line of duty deaths in these structures. A low number does not equate safe operations.
What does need to be made known is that these structures exist everywhere and more importantly are likely to have people inside them. Crying “let it burn!” on Facebook does more of a disservice towards your department’s mission than adopting and publicly promoting victim survivability profiling, in my personal opinion.
You will fight fires the way your department fights fires and not the way someone states away does. Your size-up and choices will be affected by you being physically there and by your staffing and assignments. It’s easy to give commands in a post or tweet from your couch. It’s much harder when you are on the street, dealing with reality.
We have known for several years that those who can be found in abandoned buildings range from the homeless to kids playing; from victims of crime to squatters. We have also known that the occupancy doesn’t depend on the weather. People can be found inside these buildings in the summer just as much as the winter.
Regardless of season, time, and type of person, our mission to save lives in peril cannot be heavily influenced by perceived occupancy type or degree of abandonment. Again, each incident varies according to size-up, but we cannot simply write people off. We must be better than that. If you can search, then search. If you can’t, we can understand. If you choose not to based on a flippant assumption about the property, that’s disappointing.
Here are recent fires that should remind us that abandoned does not mean empty.
Boynton Beach, Florida: Homeless man charged with arson
Topeka, Kansas: Neighbor says homeless people were kicking in door to enter home before fire began
Huntington, West Virginia: Squatter kept going into house that burned
Portland, Oregon: Neighbors blame squatters for house fire
Oroville, California: Man pulled from abandoned house fire
Los Angeles, California; Neighbors blame squatters for house fire
Indianapolis, Indiana: Death in abandoned house fire ruled a homicide
Fresno, California: Signs of homeless people inside abandoned building fire
If you want to be upset about something in the Detroit fire, be upset about breathing in that smoke.
Bill Carey is the Online News Manager with Clarion Fire & Rescue Group, specifically FirefighterNation.com and FireRescue Magazine. Bill served as a firefighter, volunteer sergeant, and lieutenant at Hyattsville in Prince George’s County, Maryland. His writing has been in Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation, and other sites. His work on firefighter behavioral health was nominated for a 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.