No one can argue that 2 firefighters getting killed is worse than or even equal to 26 dead in Newtown. As an emergency responder, however, the thought of a madman like the one in upstate New York gives me the chills.
I'm purposely not using his name. The notoriety that goes with such heinous acts is fueling more acts just like them, in my opinion. Who he was doesn't matter. What he did, however, will happen again. That's where the lesson is.
We are taught in emergency services to focus on our own safety first. I guarantee the volunteer firefighters who responded to the burning buildings and vehicles in the early Christmas Eve hours were prepared to fight the blazes using safe practices and personal protective equipment. They were no doubt wearing special gear to help them get close to the flames and possibly search for victims through the smoke and heat.
They were prepared for the dangers they expected to encounter.
What they weren't prepared for was a complete psycho with a high-powered assault rifle (the same model used in Newtown - I don't know how important that is, but it seems worth mentioning). He opened fire when they arrived. Four were hit. Two were killed at the scene.
When I was an instructor of emergency medical technicians, I used to add "secondary devices" to our large multi-casualty incident scenarios. Secondary devices are explosives placed at the scene of a large scale incident with the sole purpose of injuring responders. They are common in terrorist attacks. My secondary device was a couple of water bottles filled with rocks and taped together. A bunch of wires from a wrecked car we used for training rounded out the bomb look.
It was pretty realistic. The idea was to teach my students to always be aware. Emergency responders should never stop looking for dangers.
On one Saturday drill I forgot the fake bomb. My whole staff forgot it, to be exact. It was discovered by faculty on Monday morning. The campus was evacuated and the bomb squad responded.
Like I said, it was pretty realistic.
The bomb squad ended up collecting the rocks-and-water-bottles prop and taking it to an empty part of the campus where it was disposed of in proper bomb manner; they blew it up. Our little fake bomb finally went boom.
The fallout of my blunder almost cost me my job as an instructor. One administrator took me to task for using the device. He didn't understand why my EMTs needed to learn how to handle bombs. Why would EMTs ever need to know something like that, he asked.
Today, I wonder if that administrator - now retired - watches the news.