Pennington: Are We All Heroes?

Should every firefighter be held to the hero status, no matter what the circumstances?

As I returned from Firehouse Expo 2013 and a wonderful Florida vacation, I sat down to read a stirring article about the death of a young firefighter and the injuries to a citizen that were caused by his accident.

While I do not know the exact circumstances behind this tragic event, the letter sent by the citizen’s family was amazing and hard-hitting. It asked that fallen firefighter not be given the traditional hero's farewell; the heart-breaking honor that we give to our fallen comrades.

How can this be? Does this family have any right to make this request? Let’s look at this from a neutral perspective and then offer this jumpseat rider's view. 

First and foremost, this a tragic event that has left one young firefighter dead and others hurt.

Not only is the fire service family hurt, but the families of both the firefighter and the citizen will cope with the mental suffering after a serious incident. Taking a look at this request could quite possibly be the hardest decision that fire chief will ever have to make.  

Was this event preventable? Who was at fault in this event? Does the LODD warrant a hero’s goodbye? These are all questions I would not want to answer. 

Does belonging to a fire department give you the right to a hero's farewell, no matter what the situation of your death is? While that judgment needs to be made at a level above mine, I will offer you the opinion of someone dear to me, my wife. 

She has said many times that if I die doing something stupid I will be buried beside our family pets in the backyard, in a pine box.  Dying for an abandoned structure or taking a risk beyond that is unacceptable will not be tolerated by her or my family.

She understands greatly that we may be asked to go above and beyond to save a life as she is a retired paramedic. Even more, she understands that there are many situations where we get ourselves into a tight spot with no real viable outcome.

While her opinion may sound harsh to many, it always stays in the back on my mind when deciding on the risk versus reward decision that a pine box in the backyard may be my final resting place if I chose wrong. It has come to mind many times when faced with an unwinnable or unsalvageable situation. 

Here is where this particular case troubles this jumpseat rider. Number one is the fallen is a brother in a brotherhood that extends way beyond the borders of his town.

His department needs to be able to mourn, grieve, say goodbye, and heal in whatever way seems fit. Whether or not he deserves a formal farewell shouldn’t be up to anyone but the members of his department. If the department was not allowed to offer their final respects or grieve, the healing process could never be completed and affect many members for years to come.

Does everyone who pulls on their boots and signs up to become a firefighter deserve a hero's farewell.

I believe -- yes -- as we all belong to something bigger than ourselves.

While you don’t see bankers, realtors or many other professions having processions to honor their lost, how often are any of these folks asked to put their lives in others' hands to bring them home safely. 

Save the judgment on this young firefighter for God to decide.

Let his department mourn their loss in the way they seem fit. 

Adding insult to tragedy is not the way to make a point in the public eye.  If you don’t agree with their way of saying goodbye, just don’t show up!