Stop the ig­no­rance

The Compass - - OPINION -

With all the con­tro­ver­sial cuts com­ing out of Ot­tawa in re­cent days, there are no short­age of top­ics on which to take a broad­side at Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper and his Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

But as tempt­ing as it is, we have de­cided to di­rect our sights a lit­tle closer to home, and com­ment on the at­ti­tudes of some peo­ple as it re­lates to the un­selfish work be­ing done by vol­un­teer fire de­part­ments in our re­gion. As com­mu­nity jour­nal­ists, we of­ten find our­selves at the scene of emer­gen­cies such as fires and ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents. As such, we see these men and women in ac­tion, putting their lives on the line and do­ing their ut­most to pro­tect per­sons and prop­erty.

But we’ve en­coun­tered a darker side as well in re­cent weeks, and we be­lieve it’s worth shar­ing in this space. The first in­stance oc­curred April 18 as vol­un­teers with the Bay de Grave brigade were bat­tling a house fire in Clarke’s Beach that claimed the life of an el­derly woman. Sev­eral weeks later, the woman’s hus­band, who was be­ing treated for smoke in­hala­tion, also passed away.

There were dozens of on­look­ers at the scene, lean­ing on fence posts and watch­ing and cri­tiquing ev­ery move. Sev­eral peo­ple openly crit­i­cized the brigade’s re­sponse time, de­spite the fact that Chief Jeremy Hall said the first pumper was on the scene within nine min­utes of the first call for as­sis­tance. We are aware that such talk con­tin­ued for days af­ter­wards in some cir­cles.

And more re­cently, the Car­bon­ear Fire Depart­ment was called to a shed fire in the neigh­bour­ing com­mu­nity of Fresh­wa­ter on May 22. Ac­cord­ing to Chief Ed Ka­vanagh, the first unit was on the scene about five min­utes af­ter the emer­gency call came into the switch­board at Car­bon­ear Gen­eral Hospi­tal.

De­spite the swift re­sponse, Ka­vanagh ad­mit­ted last week that as his mem­bers — clad is heavy bunker suits and other safety gear — were di­rect­ing water onto the fire and drag­ging around hoses, in tem­per­a­tures just un­der 30 C, some­one had the nerve to com­plain about the re­sponse time.

Be­ing the pro­fes­sion­als they are, Ka­vanagh and his team shrugged off the com­ment and went about their du­ties.

But later, Ka­vanagh ac­knowl­edged that he was stung by the crit­i­cism, and went to great lengths to em­pha­size that his depart­ment re­sponds just as quickly and ef­fi­ciently to a call in Fresh­wa­ter as it would to a call in Car­bon­ear.

In our view, these in­ci­dents are shame­ful and a fla­grant dis­play of ig­no­rance. Here’s why. These men and women are vol­un­teers. Most have jobs and fam­i­lies, yet they drop ev­ery­thing at a mo­ment’s no­tice, whether it’s a fam­ily meal, du­ties at a work­place, or a peace­ful sleep at night. They move with great haste to their per­sonal ve­hi­cles and ei­ther go straight to the scene of the emer­gency or to the fire sta­tion to get the trucks rolling. They never know what awaits them, yet they don’t hes­i­tate.

In the case of the fire in Clarke’s Beach, sev­eral vol­un­teers left work­places as far away as Holy­rood and Long Har­bour, and one man suf­fered a se­ri­ous leg in­jury as he briskly at­tempted to get water flow­ing onto the fire.

Again, these are vol­un­teers. They could eas­ily turn their heads and flash a raised palm, but that’s not how these peo­ple are en­gi­neered. They care and they speak with their ac­tions, in­stead of stand­ing on the side­lines. They are to be com­mended, re­spected and sup­ported. Not crit­i­cized and sec­ond-guessed.

Those who be­lieve they can do so much bet­ter should step for­ward and prove it.

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