Cantankerous Wisdom: Censorship, Hypocrisy, & Second-Guessing

Photo courtesy of Jim Burlingame

By Bill Adams

The other day I was looking at an online video taken inside the cab of a rig responding “lights and siren” to a working building fire. It was interesting, informative, and really got the juices flowing. I wanted to change the date on my driver’s license, dye my hair, practice walking upright without assistance, and submit a membership application to the local fire department. But common sense prevailed.

I believe photographs and videos of fireground action are invaluable learning tools; even raisins can learn something from them. Publishers and editors are forever in a quandary when their postings show “questionable” fireground procedures, tactics, and actions. The top of my list is showing firefighters not wearing full rubber goods. The older generation calls them rubber goods; the middle generation says turnout gear; and the new breed says personal protective clothing or PPE—it’s all the same stuff.


The topic of showing “questionable” photographs was kicked around by the raisin squad at morning coffee. Mr. Miserable said, “Call it what you want. If you ain’t wearing the gear and you get hurt, you ain’t getting any sympathy.” Sympathy was not the question, showing “questionable” photos was. One geezer agreed that fire scene videos and photographs were learning tools. Another said each posting should be labelled “How to do it” or “How NOT to do it.” One member of the bleeding hearts club said it wasn’t right to embarrass a fire department.

We argued and agreed it is a major dilemma for publishers. Should they show an engine company slow-walking and monkey-diddling around for five minutes before getting water on a fire? Do they show two firefighters starting to throw an extension ladder before realizing it is upside down? Is it “proper” to publish a photo of a crew using hydraulic rescue tools without eye or hand protection? Mistakes happen. Perhaps they shouldn’t be advertised.

Should the fire service media only publish the good stuff—you know, just photos and videos showing the “proper” ways of firefighting? Who decides what is proper? Is that censorship? One geezer said they ought to show everything just the way it happened and let people decide for themselves. Another said they shouldn’t allow any negative commentary and publishers should not publish letters to the editor that are critical of particular fireground tactics and procedures. That might be the best solution, but it also could be a type of censorship. I recall one of my high school teachers saying we are taught history because we can learn from our mistakes. I agree—you can’t learn it if you don’t see it. Anyhow, it is the publishers’ problem.


Getting back to the video shot from inside the responding apparatus. It was taken from a forward-facing seat in the crew cab. It appeared to be a well-functioning crew. The firefighters facing rearward on each side of the motor were buckling up their coats and strapping on air packs including the belt buckles. Flashlights were being clipped on and portable radios were pocketed with the microphones attached to the SCBA straps. The officer kept repeating updates heard on the radio. The liberal use of the siren and airhorns met my approval! Yep, you could be proud of that crew—they were getting ready to work.

Then I reread the caption; it said the video was taken by a helmet camera. What? Wearing a helmet inside the cab? That’s a no-no. When reviewing it again, there was a loose helmet sitting up front on the motor’s tunnel. That’s another no-no. And the two firefighters gearing-up and packing-up weren’t wearing seat belts. How could they? A quadruple no-no. So what does one do? Should a do-gooder write a letter to the editor pointing out all the no-no’s or just let it go?

It could be another case of firefighter hypocrisy. Do as I say and not as I do? Do we only follow the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus that we like and not the ones we dislike? When commenting about a photo or video, should we be second-guessing what we’re looking at?


When interpreting fireground photographs, there comes a time (or times) in everyone’s life when they step on a private body part when leaping before looking—also known as second-guessing. I know for a fact it hurts. I was sent a fireground photo of a job a local department responded to. My first look at it showed a geared-up and packed-up firefighter standing in the middle of the street at the rear of the rig shooting a stream into the flames blowing out a second-floor window. The pumper was visible and no one else was in sight. He looked like the Lone Ranger waiting for Tonto.

What an opportunity to Monday morning quarterback! “What the hell is he doing? Why isn’t he inside? They must be running light on manpower! I guess they don’t train much.” Like a fool, I popped off to a friend—a member of the department I knew who commenced to straighten me out.

What ACTUALLY happened: The fire was on the driver’s side of the pumper which pulled by the building to make room for the ladder truck that hadn’t arrived yet. The person took the photo from across the street on the officer’s side of the rig and had kneeled or squatted down to show both the firefighter and the fire coming out the second-floor window.

My “former” friend laid into me: “What you didn’t see was the charged supply line laying in the street and the hydrant man running toward the rig. The pump operator was on the opposite side of the rig changing over from tank water to hydrant water. Also not visible behind the pumper were two guys all packed up forcing the locked front door with the irons. The preconnect was flaked out and charged when the second-floor window failed. The nozzleman was giving it a quick shot when the picture was taken.”

He continued, “He darkened it down waiting for them to force the door. If you weren’t so damn quick to criticize, you would have noticed there wasn’t much smoke coming out of the other windows or from the eves; it was just the room and contents. They popped the front door and made the second-floor before the ladder truck got there. Today they call that a ‘transitional attack,’ but you’re so old I guess you never heard of that.”

Am I glad I didn’t comment publicly on that photo…………….

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