The Un-Hero

Every year right after Christmas network television starts to air specials recapping the year and I'm often put off by the fact the year isn't over.  Basically I'm a glass is half full kind of guy and always hope that even until 11:59 pm there is a chance for something great to happen. In the same vein, I am always nervous writing about the year that was, for fear that some fire service tragedy will occur. So, hopefully our next few days will be quiet.

As I look back on 2007, and our collective loss of civilian and firefighter lives the Sofa Superstore fire in Charlotte, S.C., stands out most in my mind. As more information continues to surface about this incident, it should serve as a learning experience for all of us. It should also remain clear that we must keep elected officials abreast of our needs: At the end of the day, they are our boss.

I look at the Duetsche Bank fire, which was closer to home for me, and realize the pressure to create economic windfalls will always pit code enforcement and life safety against the fire service. We must constantly remind the public of the 'what ifs' that stop unsafe measures and short cuts. With that, we must also do more to openly support the code enforcement officials in our community. There are too many unknowns during a structure fire, and good code enforcement allows some base line assumptions to be made on our part.

Even as I look back on the tragedies, large and small, I am struck by the complete void of recognition for one segment of our fire service industry: Across this country fire departments responded to millions of calls and the vast majority did so without any problem. 

As we each think about the year and our losses, we should also take the time to remember those who followed the Standard Operating Procedure when it wasn't the popular decision. We should remember the officer who spent the extra time preparing and executing a drill. We should think of all the 'un-hero' firefighters who did it the right way in 2007 and will again in 2008.

About the author

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Tom LaBelle is an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has worked for the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to that he served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He is a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee and is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. "The Butcher's Bill," originates from the British military’s post-battle evaluation of if strategic and tactical objectives were met and the numbers killed and wounded. This they called "The Butcher's Bill." Chief LaBelle can be reached at

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