‘Heroic Government Firefighters’?

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Firefighters Fiddle While Roseville Burns

by Steven Greenhut

Recently by Steven Greenhut: Sacramento Bee Stokes Phony CrimeWave

I hear endlessly from firefighters who typically earn pay and benefit packages of $175,000 a year here in California that they are heroes who put their lives on the line to keep us and our property safe. Yet, so often when tragedy strikes, these heroes act in ways that certainly are not heroic.

For instance, on Thursday a major fire consumed a good part of the Roseville Galleria, one of the largest malls in northern California, while firefighters basically waited outside to allow the fire sprinklers to do the job.

As the Sacramento Bee reported, a "troubled" 23-year-old man walked into a game store, claimed he had a gun, ordered everyone out and set fire to the store. Everyone was evacuated from the mall without incident, according to the Bee, "But because he left a backpack behind, and because no one knew if it contained explosives, firefighters waited outside while a bomb squad went in looking for the back pack."

The authorities figured the sprinklers had the fire under control, but when the bomb squad got into the building they found out that "the fire apparently smoldered and grew" and then "it burst out of control, roaring through portions of the mall roof and sending the bomb squad retreating … . The result was a fire that raged into early evening." It caused massive damage including a roof collapse.

The Fire Department heralded its decision to withhold firefighting from the mall. As the department spokesman said, "As it turns out, it was a good decision from the firefighter safety standpoint." As we see here and in virtually every other case involving fires and police efforts: The safety of the firefighter or officer is the primary — at times it seems, the only — concern of public safety officials.

I had previously written for LewRockwell about a "Dateline NBC" show depicting a man who was about to commit suicide from a bridge in Philadelphia. Dozens of assembled police and firefighters watched and even joked as the man stood in a precarious position. As I wrote, "They [police and firefighters] had a long time to bring a boat under the bridge from a nearby police boathouse as [Matthew] Beaufort threatened to jump. Only after the two volunteers dragged the drowning man onto the shore did Philly’s finest begin to take their rescue equipment down to the river. And the officials wouldn’t touch Beaufort or try to resuscitate him until the rubber gloves and other safety equipment was on the scene. They left the dirty work for the brave volunteers." I also wrote about how during some mass-shooting situations, "The officials were unwilling to endure risk, so they surrounded the building and waited while innocents died en masse."

This is reality. We should at least dispense with all the talk about heroism. In the world of government "public safety" work, it’s all about protecting the safety of the officials. A hero is someone who risks his life to save others. I understand the desire to minimize risks and especially unnecessary risks for firefighters and police, but the whole point of these jobs — as we’re told endlessly by public safety unions and politicians that court them — is that they are first responders who are supposed to endure some risk. Why else do we have them? Why do we pay them such high salaries?

In the law enforcement world, the officer-safety cult has led to senseless deaths of citizens. Police don’t save deadly force for extreme situations. Rather, they would rather use deadly force if they fear any threat to themselves at all — which explains why heavily armed and armored police often kill people who have only small knives after they step within 20 feet of them. That’s what cops are taught to do. Call it necessary if you want, but don’t call it heroism.

One conservative talk radio host on Friday (Eric Hogue in Sacramento) complained about people who second-guessed the firefighter response in Roseville. And of course many people have been chiming in and defending the "heroic" firefighters who — altogether now — "put their lives on the line every day protecting us."

Apparently, Americans are desperate for heroes, even ones who only occasionally act heroically and who are paid handsome sums for their heroism ($100,000 retirements at age 50, three-day work weeks, paid while sleeping, salaries with overtime that often top $200,000). There’s not much sacrifice going on here. But perhaps the more the public sees the response, or non-response, to fires in places such as Roseville, the less apt they might be to continue with this silly hero worship.

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is editor-in-chief of CalWatchdog.com and a widely published opinion writer. He is the author of the book, Abuse of Power, and his latest, Plunder!.

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