First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

Taking Chances – a Commentary

Saving Money Instead of Saving Lives in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia they've apparently disciplined (in a roundabout semi-official way) a guy who suffered some crescent burns on his cheek during a double rescue, apparently because he failed to properly don his hood. I guess, in Philly, you're responsible for the strength of that little elastic band around the face hole on your hood.

I like the union's theory that this is an effort by the city to intimidate the members into refraining from reporting injuries and thus reduce the city's workers' compensation claims. The more cynical among us may wonder whether it will work that way or if it will just cause the members to avoid risk. Some people out there undoubtedly approve of the latter end. But Philly's is an old and hard-nosed fire department and I suspect that the mission will triumph over the asininity of the city.

Leaving aside the question of motivations, this curious turn of events on its own gives us a window into one of many possible futures of the fire service. Is this trend of post-incident consequences for good-faith actions inevitable? Though we do see this spat play out on the internet in the comments and forums, I am not convinced we will ever get to the point that things like what happened in Philadelphia are common by design. There is already significant pushback against advocates of the Culture of Safety and more and more sane professionals within the fire service are standing up for smart aggression. (With two rescues made there is probably an argument that the actions on scene in Philadelphia were ipso facto smartly aggressive.)

The horse may already be out of the barn, though we are still in the process of closing the gate. Will forces outside the fire service, be they OSHA, the workers' compensation board, cities' risk managers, headline-hungry DA's, or homeland security/public safety directors (read: cops in charge of firefighters) push us down a road that ultimately destroys the aggressive culture that saves civilian lives? I am afraid the answer may well be yes.

………. Patrick Mahoney

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