Firefighters applaud Minneapolis fire chief’s safety focus during riots
Fire service leaders and members of the FireRescue1 community voice support for Chief John Fruetel's cautious approach to fire operations amid violence
As fires rage in Minneapolis, many are looking for the firefighters. They are there, but strategically positioned in areas where they can make the most impact – and keep firefighters safe.
In an interview with CNN Thursday night, with footage of a police precinct station burning running, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel explained the fire department’s cautious approach to fire operations amid the riots that erupted over the death of George Floyd during his detainment by Minneapolis police on Monday.
“We tried to get into that area [where the precinct was burning], and it was determined at that time that the scene was untenable,” Fruetel said. “We have to really consider the safety of our firefighters in those areas.” Fruetel added that crews will continue evaluate areas that are burning to determine if it’s safe for crews.
Fire service leaders weighed in on the safety-minded approach.
IAFC President Gary Ludwig – fire chief of the Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department – noted how difficult it can be to change approach during a major fire event: "Our DNA is structured such that when we see a problem, we react and fix it. It goes against how our brains are wired to watch a fire burn and not be able to do anything. Civil unrest is where leadership and experience earn their pay. As I watched TV, with many major cities erupting with fires on Friday night, I saw many fire departments, including Minneapolis, use the proper strategies to wait and not rush in or use force protection when doing so. I applaud those chiefs and company officers who are doing the right things at the right times.”
FireRescue1 Executive Editor Marc Bashoor – fire chief in Highlands County, Florida – agreed with the “slowed” strategy: “Typically, the ‘bread-and-butter’ structure fires is where the fire service shines. The fire service responding during civil unrest, however, should be no different than responding during a hurricane or to an active shooter situation. Decision models change and everything needs to S-L-O-W down. Just as Chief Fruetel has done, chiefs need to take a calculated strategic approach to go and no-go situations during civil unrest. Nobody likes to see a fire raging out of control while fire trucks sit idly by, but after all, under these conditions, it’s not ‘just a fire’ anymore, is it?”
Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder explained the importance of not being the enemy: "There was a bumper sticker that was out in the 60s, printed up by the IAFF, which stated 'FIREFIGHTERS FIGHT FIRES ... Not people' – and it still holds true. Our mission is clear, and we are all about taking care of the public, but it gets fuzzy to some people during civil unrest. But it can't get fuzzy.
"You may have seen firefighters during the 60s riots using hoselines to control crowds. Fire departments were used far outside of our realm of public trust. We are not and cannot ever be the enemy. We are the 'last chance' department, and that's pretty important for us to embrace. It has taken us a long time to gain the trust of the public by doing what we are expected to do.
"While we are always willing to take risks to help the public, that is also always based upon determining if the risk is worth it. Many times, it is absolutely worth it … and firefighters do that every day. But in the case of civil unrest, we cannot place our personnel in a predictable risk where we have absolutely no control.
"When there are uncontrolled crowds of people, weapons or not, we stage away and let those in authority gain control, and then we come in and do what we do. Fire. EMS. Whatever. But placing firefighters in an environment that is out of control is something that we cannot do, as history has taught us."
Additionally, many members of the FireRescue1 social media community applauded the chief’s decision to prioritize firefighter safety.
Here’s a roundup of some comments:
- Unless someone is trapped, let it burn, not worth risking firefighters lives for things that can be replaced
- Avoid the risk LAFD and LACoFD took during the LA riots. Not worth the lives of FF/EMS
- Stand down SAFETY 1ST CHIEF! PLEASE DO NOT GET BESIDE YOURSELF!
- Absolute right decision by the Chief. Everybody goes home.
- LET IT BURN. NOT 1 FIREMANS LIFE IS WORTH WHAT GOING ON THERE.
- Stay safe and stay at the station
- Let it burn. Protect the firehouse and equipment.
- Don't even leave the hall, let it burn.
- As the daughter of a Baltimore City Firefighter who was in the center of the 68' Baltimore Riots (and we lived only blocks from the station), let the damn thing burn to the ground – no FF lives need to be put at risk for property – having lived that fear. I'm sorry but property is not worth the lives of FF/EMS personnel. My father was shot at, rocks, bricks and bottles through at him and the other firefighters – he rode the back step on the engine - first off - first in - my anger over situations such as this as long boiled and I'll be damned if anyone should risk their life in this situation unless there is a human life involved.