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A Crisis Of Silence

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The Seattle Fire Department, and firefighters everywhere, got a big black eye this weekend when two drunk off duty Seattle firefighters allegedly attacked a couple of homeless people at a downtown memorial statue. One of the victims resorted to pulling out a knife and stabbing one of the attackers in self-defense.  I use the term “allegedly” loosely, as the brazen attack was witnessed by lots of folks leaving a Seattle Sounders game, and their statements are plastered all over the Seattle news.The attackers were supposedly upset that a homeless person was sleeping on the memorial , built in honor of four firefighters who died in the 1995 Mary Pang warehouse fire.  The integrity and reputation of the Seattle Fire Department and its dedicated folks must be protected, and I’m I hope they throw the book at these clowns, and send them packing.

 The department has a lot of work ahead in restoring trust with the community, especially the homeless community.  With that said, curiously I have not yet found an official statement by an official department representative about the assault.  Even though these “fireholligans” were off duty, their public service roles catapulted their actions to the front page of every news organization in Seattle, and should have resulted in a swift and thoughtful department statement. With over 20,000 Twitter followers, I would think the department could have issued a statement that could have helped begin repairing its damaged reputation. But, nope… Not. One. Peep.  Not even on their official Twitter feed (with 20,000 followers).

Back in the day, my department faced a reputation crisis when two of our medics were accused of patient mistreatment.  The accuser went to the Seattle media outlets with their accusations (subsequently determined to be unfounded), and soon the reporters were beating down the door of my office and home.  Instead of hiding behind the HR and Legal weenies, we quickly and aggressively created and distributed a statement containing the following points;

  •  We are very sorry for the patient’s medical situation.  It must be very difficult, and none of us would want our family members to go through such an experience.
  • The paramedics involved are highly trained and very experienced.
  • We take this complaint very seriously, and have begun an internal medical quality assurance investigation, spearheaded by our medical director physician.
  •  Patient confidentiality laws prevent us from divulging patient care information, and we respect and protect these rights.
  • We remain concerned for the patient, and hope he/she makes a full and speedy recovery.

 Now, of course we vetted the statement through our legal beagles.  But, we didn’t wait to get their permission before writing it. We wrote it, shoved it in front of them to read, and blasted it out via email/FAX (this was before the age of social media). The sense of urgency was there, and being pragmatic wasn’t an option.

 The City of Seattle and Seattle Fire should have done the same thing, and I hope they get something out soon. Protecting the sacrifice and memory of Lieutenants Kilgor/Shoemaker and Firefighters Terlicker/Brown  shouldn’t be left to thugs.

Update: 7:10 PM I just saw an article of  the Seattle Fire Chief’s press conference held earlier today, apologizing for the actions on the firefighters. It’s a start…

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Jim Peeples

    What is your take on the recent video trend of drinking challenges by off-duty fire service personnel on social media? Is a culture coming out of the closet? Have attitudes changed towards the way the profession is publicly portrayed when not wearing the uniform? What can we expect from the department leadership in their efforts to deal with the off duty behavior and how it reflects back on the fire service?

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Great point Jim. As long as FF’s identify as such on SM platforms they have a responsibility to not bring into question their, and their fellow FF’s, professionalism. I don’t get the whole challenge thing anyway. Sadly I think things are going to get worse before they get better.

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.