Sunday, May 18, 2014

When the Good Guys Go Bad

Firefighters earn a lot of admiration and respect from the public because of what they do: run into burning buildings to put out fires, rescue pets from culverts and other hazardous places, and save lives. Law enforcement officers don’t always get the same level of hero worship. Even though they, too, save lives and make dramatic rescues, they’re also known for giving perfectly nice people speeding tickets and locking up Aunt Myrna when she’s had one too many Cosmos and starts a bar fight.

Firefighters are the good guys (and gals). Right?

It would be nice if that were the case one hundred percent of the time. But let’s face it: Firefighters are human, and humans are inherently flawed. They make mistakes and poor choices just like everyone else. The difference is that firefighters are held to a higher standard than many other professions and need to be trustworthy, since they routinely enter homes and businesses in the course of their duties. Even in the volunteer firefighting ranks there’s a sense of honor and duty, and upstanding behavior is the norm rather than the exception. The vast majority of firefighters really do tend to be the good guys and gals, both on duty and off.

However, there are always those few bad apples in any basket…

In recent weeks, stories surfaced about a California battalion chief who went on the run for two weeks after allegedly killing his girlfriend. (According to news reports, he confessed to the murder upon his arrest.)

In Houston last week, a firefighter was arrested after threatening to shoot everyone in his station.

About six weeks ago, a former fire chief in Colorado pleaded guilty to theft and embezzlement. He reportedly made more than $600,000 of unauthorized purchases using his fire district’s credit card and bank account. (As if no one would notice...)

Recently, New York City firefighters and police officers were playing in a charity hockey game when a bench-clearing brawl broke out. (Not the behavior you’d expect from NYC’s first responders, but then again, it was hockey.) However, a little ice scuffle is probably not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, considering that more than 100 NYC cops and firefighters are currently facing charges of filing false disability claims stemming from 9/11.

While the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire was still burning in Colorado, a volunteer firefighter in a nearby county decided he wanted to see some action, too. So he started his own wildfire that forced the entire town of Elbert, Colorado to evacuate.

One of the most notorious serial arson cases in California during the 1980s and early 1990s involved a seasoned fire investigator. This case was chronicled by author Joseph Wambaugh in his book Fire Lover.

Your takeaway: These cases all involve a very, very small percentage of firefighters, but they make a big splash in news cycles because nothing is more juicy to the press than when a person in a noble profession goes to the dark side. Don’t overlook all of the good things firefighters do in their communities just because a few less than honorable folks grab the media spotlight.

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