Fighting Fires: Common Sense Prevails
Firefighters Routinely Take Risks
A Not Uncommon Scene
Windsor Bulding Fire in Madrid
Some 20 years ago I stood less than a block from New York City Hall in downtown Manhattan, entranced by a "towering inferno."
Seemingly from nowhere crowds of people -- eyes staring intently upward -- gathered round as fire trucks and police cars gathered beneath one of the city's unheralded skyscrapers.
I couldn't believe my eyes. The entire top floor of the building was ablaze, flames licking the underside of the roof.
Brave Firefighters Do Their Job
A half dozen or more firefighters could be seen streaming onto the roof armed with axes and other firefighting paraphernalia. They were walking directly over the flames, presumably to poke holes in the roof to vent what must have been incredible heat.
Intellectually, I knew they had to stop that fire before it got out of control and spread to adjacent skyscapers, but I couldn't help thinking, "Those guys are crazy. There's got to be a better way."
I was reminded of all this when I read Hour correspondent Harold F. Cobin's report of the suspicious fire at the vacant building that for many years housed the Howard Johnson's restaurant on East Avenue (in Norwalk, Connecticut.)
Fire Chief's Wise Decision
When I read that Fire Chief John Yost had decided to keep firefighters out of the unoccupied structure, preferring to rely on what The Hour called a "defensive attack" to extinguish the blaze, I could not have been happier. "Chalk one up for common sense," I thought.
Firefighters rely on their leaders to make good judgments when they put their lives on the line. Too often, I see newspaper accounts of firefighters who are severely injured or killed when roofs collapse or flash explosions occur.
Greater Caution Advised
I have the nagging feeling that those deaths could have been prevented; maybe the best judgment was not made; maybe the brass could have been a bit more cautious, considering that lives were at stake.
Norwalk firefighters, I think, are fortunate to have men of the caliber of Chief Yost.
While fire officials must make difficult decisions every time the alarm rings at the firehouse, police officials, too, face life-or-death decisions virtually on a daily basis. As fire officials have to decide how to fight a particular fire, police brass often must decide at a moment's notice whether to pursue a suspect in a tempting but dangerous car chase.
High Speed Chase Tragedy
Some 30 years ago, I lost a nephew when New York City police decided to begin a high-speed chase. My nephew was wanted for driving his family car without permission.Two young girls died with him when he tried to escape his pursuers by exiting the West Side Highway at a speed estimated to be close to 100 miles per hour.
Since that time, many police departments, including Norwalk's, have established guidelines for cutting off pursuit when the danger is perceived to be greater than the need to make an immediate capture and arrest.
Unfortunately, we still read about high-speed police chases that result in injuries and death to innocent people.
In any case, it's a given that the fleeing suspect is acting irrationally and irresponsibly. But, the police pursuer also is out of control and dangerous when traveling at such high speeds.
Here's another one we can chalk up to common sense.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on May 11, 1996. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.