If you, our reader, has been in the fire service for a year or so, or more, you have probably seen spectator problems, especially with "rubber-necking" on highway or roadway accidents. On our roads, these deliberate slow-downs often impede our ability to arrive on scene and even perform the necessary tasks to provide the necessary assistance. Add to that the rude replies we receive from numerous drivers and passengers when we politely ask them to, "keep moving," or we divert them with a detour...well you know what I mean.
Now some of you may think that this attitude is a more recent occurrence due to our society's devolving into the "Me," attitude of today, but you would be wrong. It was 1977 and I had just joined a combo department, just outside Greensboro NC. A section of I-40 cut right through our southern district and, it was an MVC on that highway, that was one of the first calls I was qualified to respond on.
Luckily, we were responding from the station before the dispatcher even finished announcing the call and the highway was just over a mile down the street from our station. Luckily the two or three involved vehicles were already in the "breakdown lane." Upon arrival in our Squad, my friend and I were detailed to traffic control on I-40. We were wearing orange vests and carried orange directional wands. The Captain and Chief met us and advised us what they needed us to do, namely, keep the traffic moving, slowly and safely past the accident scene.
"How difficult could that be?" we naively thought!
It probably took less than five minutes before I was reprimanded by a driver for "upsetting" his travel plans! I was trying to be very polite and explained the issue; over and over again. No matter what I said, he had already vilified me for upsetting his family's plan to go wherever they were going. And I wasn't alone. He and others like him that afternoon, blamed every difficulty they had ever experienced, as well as the world's geo-political problems on our fire department!
Now, nearly 45 years later, one might believe that our society world have evolved since then, right? Wrong! Take a look at social and news media reports of a major, five-alarm fire in Lawrence MA, last night. Lawrence is a mid-sized city, a northwestern suburb of Boston. This morning, I have read or watched multiple articles and videos about how uncooperative people were during this major catastrophe.
Even after being advised not to cross fire-tape, come to the neighborhood, etc., dozens of folks decided it was better to watch a major fire that was impacting their own neighbors, then to stay at home. There were multiple reports that the crowds were not allowing needed fire apparatus to get to the scene or their staging assignments. People thought of the tragedy as entertainment and decided to sit or stand and watch from the viewpoint that would best suit them, not our brave Brothers and Sisters, who were contending with active fire in four major structures, cold temperatures and winds gusting to over 25 MPH.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the Lawrence Police Department, as well as neighboring agencies and the Mass State Police did everything within reason to keep onlookers our of the way of the numerous fire services. Nevertheless, the truth comes out and we can only imagine how difficult that situation was last evening and for the rest of us, as well.
There is nothing to be gained by being a "rubber-necker" or an uninvited and unwanted spectator at the scene of a major emergency. I know I often wondered, when I got some "lip" from a driver or spectator, how he or she would have felt if it was their emergency and all these people showed up and got in the way of the emergency service people attempting to mitigate their emergency.
Listen, if we're some of the first on scene before the local fire, EMS or law enforcement teams show up, we know that we'll render aid; that's who we are and what we do. But when a major portion of your neighborhood is burning down and brave men and women are risking their lives to mitigate the emergency, please help us and STAY the F**K away from us! We're NOT the new feature at your neighborhood "drive-in!"
STAY SAFE & STAY WELL!
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Founder & President of 5-Alarm Task Force Corp. and Creator & Host of the "5-Alarm Task Force" podcast.