Baltimore: The Question

A vacant rowhouse

In a more perfect world it would be simultaneously possible to revere extraordinary sacrifice while also questioning the circumstances which gave rise to it.

But such questioning is often seen to blemish the heroic acts.

These next few days will be given over to hope for the survivor and an outpouring of grief for those killed.

They will likely be borne to a resting place on polished chariots beneath flags of country and tribe.

It is said that the tragedy of untimely death is assuaged by the certain knowledge of a life lived with purpose and meaning.

The solemn and stately rites of burial will amplify that message even as it obscures the ambivalence of their acts.

But professional ambivalence should not be equated with blame; the notion of blame is retrospective while our concern is for future firefighters and their families.

Much of the fire service seems to operate on auto-pilot where critical decisions are predestined by institutional inertia and tradition.

Why is that?

At the end of the day it’s a cultural conundrum just like 21st-century protective equipment topped off with a 19th-century leather helmet.

It’s proof if ever needed that the fire service is controlled by emotion as much as science.

Emotion which propels us headlong through the stop signs of experience and reality into the eternal abyss.

On a bitter January morning as the sun had yet to rise, the bell tolled while tradition triumphed.



Firefighter, DC City Guide and Part-Time Sailor

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