Editor's choice: 4 stories that defined the fire service

Of all the stories to come out of 2013, these seem to best explain the current state of the fire service

Like every year, 2013 was filled with awe-inspiring and heart-breaking stories. Some made us laugh, others infuriated us, and others yet restored our faith in humanity.

As I reflected on the year, four stories stood out. They may not be the biggest stories of the year. But for my money, they best represent where we are as a fire service.

1.Gunman holding 4 Ga. firefighters hostage shot dead

This was an incredibly tense situation handled brilliantly by the firefighters involved. It, like the fatal shooting Christmas Eve 2012, is a harsh reminder that firefighters and medics will be the targets of violence.

I remember a time when the prevailing attitude toward cancer was that it was something other people got. That's changed. Likewise, our attitude toward potential violence has to become one of "it can happen to me."

2.Special coverage: West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

As a volunteer firefighter who lives in the shadow of industry, this story hit home. When this tragedy occurred, I knew full well that something similar could happen here — I'm betting most reading this feel the same.

In an era gone by, homes were built close to industrial sites for worker convenience. Now, homebuilding encroaches on what was once empty save for industry. Either way, municipal fire departments will likely respond to any major incident that originates on industrial property.

What this story made painfully clear is that not only are many fire departments not trained or equipped for industrial incidents, but many of us have no idea what threats lie beyond the plant gates.

Worse, the government agencies charged with regulating these sites may also not have a full handle on what is going on inside.

3.Empty Detroit firehouse targeted by thieves

Where do you start with this one? Do you begin with the fact that Detroit continues to be everything we fear can happen when elected officials grossly neglect fire departments?

Or do you begin with the state of a segment of our society that is willing to steal from unattended fire stations and fire apparatus?

Either starting point leads you to an unpleasant conclusion: The fire service cannot escape the nasty realities that this prolonged recession has brought. Be it from desperate hoodlums or desperate politicians, many fire departments are getting squeezed from both ends.

4.Graphic video: Fire Capt. thrown into guardrail at MVC

I shudder each time I watch Dayton (Ohio) Capt. Barry Cron get creamed by an out-of-control vehicle. That he survived is nothing short of amazing.

The crash that nearly killed Capt. Cron was part of an 11-car pile-up set off by icy road conditions. We all know that weather is an occasional threat, but the distracted driver is an everyday threat.

Until firefighters, police and road engineers find a way to keep vehicles from plowing into emergency workers on the roadside, firefighters will be at great risk of injury or death.

I hadn't realized until after selecting my top stories that they were all a bit negative in nature. Chalk it up to an instinct to identify and neutralize the threats.

There was a lot of good that came out of 2013 and it gives me reason for optimism. Continued work by researchers at UL is giving us new understanding of fire behavior and should ultimately make fire attacks safer for firefighters. And the ongoing focus on firefighter cancer, heart attacks and mental health are encouraging, as this should lead to healthier firefighters and retirees.

The one thing that all of the stories from 2013 have in common is that firefighting is a noble profession populated by noble people. Stay safe and have a great new year.

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