Let me start off by saying that I hold no malice towards the police. I have an uncle who recently retired from law enforcement and several friends that are current police officers and some that also are fellow firefighters. The purpose of this article isn’t to delve into how police do their jobs, but an observation on one public view of police that I have seen repeated numerous times. It also isn’t to tell you that this is how it is but to pose a question for you to answer yourself. This too is not about the merits of survivability profiling, VES, searching above a fire or any other specific tactic as the public is not aware of these, and in the court of public opinion, we will not be tried on these grounds. This is also the same for the police as the public does not have a deep understanding of their tactics.
In past years, several police-involved shootings have caused social unrest in different areas of the country and a general questioning of police tactics. The details of whether the shootings were justified or not aren’t within the scope of this article. This is merely a look at only one aspect of these incidents. One thing that has been said by police officials in several of these shootings has been that officers feared for their safety and that is why the use of deadly force was needed. In watching the public’s response to this statement, one item that seems to be a recurring theme is that they chose a dangerous job. They knew the risks going into that profession and shouldn’t be using that as their sole justification for their use of deadly force. This has caused me to ask myself if future firefighters could face similar public backlash from an incident where someone died, and a fire official said no attempt at rescue could have been made due to firefighter safety.
This question should be framed in context; I am not talking about the building with fire coming from every opening, and the roof collapsed. The same goes for when the officer’s safety is not being questioned when someone is actively shooting at them. I am also not talking about the fires or incidents that pose little risks to firefighters such as public service type calls. The public, whether right or wrong from seeing images of the conflict, can many times tell that firefighters could not make entry. Same as the public can tell when someone is pointing a gun at an officer that they should use lethal force. I am talking about the fires where a building has a decent amount of fire inside it, maybe some structural issues, but searchable space is still present inside.
Perhaps someone is on scene stating their family is inside; perhaps no one is outside alerting us to victims present. What happens when the fire chief tells the news, “We knew there were victims inside, or there was the possibility of victims inside, but for firefighter safety, we could not even attempt entry into the structure promptly to search effectively.”
Does the fire service face the possibility of a loss of confidence and support from the public? They could begin to say, “to hell with firefighter safety, people died, and you knew what you were getting into when you signed up for the job!” Firefighters are usually ranked extremely high on a list of who people trust the most. What does the future hold for the fire service if we lose the public’s trust? Will it matter? Will it even become an issue in the future? I do not know the answer to these questions, and I don’t think that anyone does for certain.
I can tell you that if we don’t do everything we can to save a life, it won’t go good telling the family about risk/benefit analysis. They want and deserve to hear “we did everything we could to save your child/spouse/brother/sister/mom/dad.” Your own mental health will suffer if you didn’t give it your all.