Sometimes, There Are No Lessons
The tragedy in Buffalo, NY, has not only touched us all in the fire service, but also served to shock us, once again, to our reality.
A response to a routine “odor of gas” became another chapter in the annals of fire disasters—disasters that we so regrettably record on too regular a basis. The futility of the scenario saddens us even more. Training, experience, leadership, dedication and a host of all the readily identifiable qualities that add up to a safe and efficient incident operation were not able to affect the tragic outcome one bit.
Size up and investigation information was in the process of being gathered and assessed. The arrival of the additional units assigned to respond on the first alarm was miraculously delayed by a traffic mishap. Our firefighters stood by, ready to handle the all too routine operation of securing a leak of a gaseous substance attributed to carelessness. A vicious, violent explosion snuffed out the lives of five of our brother firefighters as they awaited further orders in the relative safety of the street.
There are never the right words to use at these times. There is only memory. An emptiness. A great sadness. A prayer.
It helps us little to realize that in the face of rapid technology and the loss of personal identification and individualism, these firefighters, as epitomized by the calmness of command of Battalion Chief H. Supple, even though severely injured himself, represent the last of the American heroes. They question not. They give no quarter. They care for others more than themselves. Danger, an unseen and unknown enemy before them, they stand ever ready between a growing disaster and badly shocked humanity.
James Lickfeld, Michael Cantanzaro, Matthew Colpoys, Michael Austin, and Anthony Waszkielewicz were lifted from their feet and hurled through the air to their deaths many yards from where they stood “awaiting further orders.” They were catapulted by the ignition of a vapor cloud that was previously surrounded by enough laws on storage and care that it should never have been able to become a fact.
We search hard for lessons that, in the face of all this sadness, will serve to teach. There appears to be none. Just the utter frustration remains. The frustration and the void that is there now and will always remain, because five keepers of their brothers passed this way.
In this case, caring, training, communicating were not enough.
We at FIRE ENGINEERING stand with all our firefighting world, momentarily at attention, heads bowed, a muffled comment. Suddenly erect. A salute. Be with God, BROTHERS.