“There is no fault, only responsibility.”
― Rob Liano
The tragic events at 298 Beacon Street in Boston illustrate just how dangerous the profession of firefighting is. Two men - Lt. Edward Walsh, Jr. and Firefighter Michael Kennedy - were killed, trapped in the basement of a collapsing brownstone. More than a dozen were injured, including several police officers.
Audio of the call became available on-line, as is almost everything these days. Thirty-seven minutes of riveting, heartbreaking voices and sounds as Boston Fire responds to a box alarm. Engine Thirty-Three arrives first, reports smoke showing and assumes command. If Boston follows the convention of our local departments one is hearing the voice of Lt. Walsh, the officer of that company.
Shortly thereafter, Car Four arrives. He is a District Chief and he assumes command of the incident. He orders Engine Thirty-three into the basement, the place where the fire apparently started.
The ensuing few minutes - no more than ten - are a cacophony of strained voices, pleas for help and urgency. Firefighters are pulled from the building, regroup and mount a rescue. "We need water, it's getting hot down here" a voice from Engine Thirty-Three hollers. "We're gonna get you water" the fire dispatcher responds, a tone of reassurance in her voice she could not possibly have felt. In the end - "Two members unaccounted for" goes over the air.
Pain enough exists for everyone to feel some of it. The lost souls, the injured, the friends and families of those effected will carry this day with them forever. The city of Boston mourns yet more loss. The residents of 298 Beacon Street may have watched everything destroyed, emerging with only the clothes they were wearing, saved by men who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Car Four never stopped commanding, never gave up. Command officers practice every chance they get, using the little, easy events - silly as it may seem to outsiders sometimes - to hone their skills, training in real time to do things quickly and efficiently during periods of incredible stress. They learn to think, to keep a million things in their heads and make the best decisions possible. Even then, be it an active fire or an active shooter, a person's best may still not be good enough.
Over a period of days, weeks.... Car Four's decisions will be dissected in an effort to understand what happened. People will sit at tables and computer screens, coffee in hand, and discuss for hours decisions made in the blink of an eye. That's the game. Someday, at a similar fire, an engine company will emerge unscathed because of the sacrifices made on 298 Beacon Street, and the lessons learned. That's also the way it is.
Take a moment, in the midst of the prayers for the fallen and injured, to say a little something for a guy who took command, kept command and now bears the ultimate burden of command. Standing at a command post with a mike in one hand and a white-board pen in the other while your guys scream for help is a terrible, lonely feeling.