First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

The Facts Matter

What can fire service pundits and bloggers learn from comedians?

A successful stand-up comedian reflected on the effort to develop his craft. He talked about the insanity, as a 20-something with no significant life experiences, in creating a sense of outrage for the sake of noise without context or nuance.

Jon Stewart is another entertainer that started as a stand-up comedian. Since 1999 he has been the host on a satirical fake news program The Daily Show. The show draws its comedy and satire from recent news stories, political figures, and media organizations.

The first segment is a Stewart monologue featuring exchanges with correspondents who adopt absurd or exaggerated takes on current events against Stewart’s straight man persona.

Last Monday he was out of character. After a moving commentary on the Arizona shootings, Stewart said: “Tomorrow, we go back to trying to do what we normally do, which is highlight absurdity in a comical way that is a catharsis for people and not a sadness.” (view commentary here)


A powerful tool in The Daily Show’s satire is fact checking.  Often his straight man persona is outraged at the gap between what a politician or media figure says and what the facts reveal.

Last month Stewart brought attention to the stalled James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. His December 16, 2010, broadcast exclusively focused on the stalled bill:

“This is an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11,” Stewart said. “The party that turned 9/11 into a catchphrase are now moving suspiciously into a convenient pre-9/11 mentality when it comes to this bill.”

“I would like to see one of these Senators have the balls to explain why somehow getting a tax cut extension for wealthy Americans is more important than suffering Ground Zero workers.”

9/11 first responders on The Daily Show December 16, 2010

Bill Carter and Brian Stelter speculated in a December 26, 2010 New York Times article: In ‘Daily Show’ Role on 9/11 Bill, Echoes of Murrow

Bowstring truss LODDs: 1988 Hackensack Ford and 1978 Waldbaum

Christopher Naum provides details on the 20th anniversary of the Hackensack Ford fire (here)

On July 1, 1988 Hackensack’s Captain RICHARD L. WILLIAMS, Lieutenant RICHARD REINHAGEN, Firefighter WILLIAM KREJSA, firefighter LEONARD RADUMSKI, and Firefighter STEPHEN ENNIS lost their lives at Hackensack Ford when a bowstring arch truss collapsed entrapping them in the area below.

Naum makes a familiar plea:


The Hackensack Ford Fire & Collapse occurred nearly ten years AFTER another tragic LODD event involving a bowstring truss roof collapse; the August 2nd, 1978 FDNY Waldbaum’s Fire, Brooklyn, New York that took the lives of six FDNY firefighters.

Read Naum’s excellent article on the Waldbaum fire in Command Safety HERE.

Two fire service writers make that implication:

John K. Murphy posted Another abandoned building takes more firefighter lives on the Fire Engineering forum Christmas day:

Here is a fact –homeless scatter like rats when the buildings start on fire meeting their own primal need of survival. They are standing outside when we arrive and watch as we enter those structures. The fire service has not and does not adequately address abandoned buildings with a comprehensive pre-fire evaluation. These buildings are in a deplorable condition, subject to collapse on any ordinary day AND with a fire inside, consuming much of the remaining structural support, they collapse and kill us.

John K. Murphy, J.D. M.S, PA-C, EFO, FACC, retired as the Deputy Fire Chief with Eastside Fire & Rescue (Issaquah WA) and Fire Chief of the City of Sammamish (WA) after 32 years of service. Chief Murphy later posted an apology for his “poor choice of words describing the homeless.”

Retired Chesterfield (VA) Battalion Chief Robert Avsec was a little more blunt, posting an article in Fire Chief’s “Mutual Aid” blog Mad – and Sad – as Hell on January 4th:

The fire building was abandoned, had been abandoned, and was located in an area of Chicago where it was known that there are many such buildings. Why were there no SOGs in place that specified “no interior firefighting operations” for such structures? If they were in place, why were they not followed?

Firefighters went into the building searching for homeless people who might be in the building. Echoes of the Worcester 6 fire in December 1999? How long will we continue to search for “ghosts”?

You cannot read the article because Fire Chief editor-in-chief Glen Bischoff pulled the article.  In a January 13th post,  An Apology Clearly is in Order, Bischoff explains:

Last week, a column was posted to the FIRE CHIEF website in which the writer harshly criticized the Chicago Fire Department for incident-command decisions made in battling an abandoned warehouse fire last month that claimed the lives of two firefighters and injured 17 others. The reader response to this column was swift and just as harsh. I certainly can understand the anger …

Christopher Naum has an excellent article about the Sing Way Laundry collapse that killed Firefighter Edward J. Stringer and Firefighter/EMT Corey D. Ankum: Chicago: Anatomy of a Building and its Collapse.

It is our nature to be passionate, obsessive and opinionated about our craft. Everyone can express their point of view, it is how we live.  For topics as sensitive as LODD events, it would be nice if we made sure our facts match our outrage before we hit the “send” button.

Mike “FossilMedic” Ward

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