Shame, Denial After Fatal Haverhill House Fire

A fatal house fire isn’t usually a topic for this blog. But the way people are behaving after such a tragedy in Haverhill, Mass., is a shameful case study in denial and lack of personal responsibility — human conditions that can damage us and those we love.

Mood music:

The son of the victim is lashing out at firefighters, saying their training should have been enough for them to get his mom out in time. Firefighters are blaming the mayor for the tragedy because of staff cuts to the fire department.

It’s the latter part that makes me want to hurl.

Here’s some detail from my former employer, The Eagle-Tribune:

HAVERHILL — The death of an elderly woman in an early morning inferno yesterday torched a political maelstrom, with firefighters saying she may have survived had Mayor James Fiorentini not cut two men from their rescue truck.

One firefighter went so far as to say the mayor should be “charged with murder.” Fiorentini and public safety officials maintain the $200,000 cut and the resulting loss of two firefighters to man the rescue truck played no role in the death of 84-year-old Phyllis Lamot.

“No amount of manning would have changed this tragedy,” said Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro.

Firefighter Todd Guertin, a leader in the firefighters union, said Fiorentini “should be charged with murder for taking the rescue truck out of service over a dispute with the union.”

Death is always hard to deal with, especially when it comes like this. Loved ones left behind will obsess about who’s to blame and what could have been done differently until it hurts too much to think anymore.

If you’re in the business of saving lives, it has to be terrible to see someone die on your watch.

The sickening part of this case is that firefighters used a tragedy to score political points. It’s something that happens all too often in this city. I wholeheartedly agree with The Eagle-Tribune editorial on the matter:

The Haverhill firefighters union’s use of the tragic death of an elderly woman in a house fire to score a political point against the mayor is yet another black mark on the scandal-ridden organization.

At the same time, there needs to be an independent investigation into the death of Phyllis Lamot in the Wednesday morning fire at 477 Washington St.

At issue is the staffing level on a rescue truck after Mayor James Fiorentini cut $200,000 from the department to cover a shortfall in the overtime budget. The crew of the truck was reduced from three to one.

The firefighters said at a press conference yesterday afternoon that, had the rescue truck been fully staffed, firefighters could have entered the burning three-decker and saved Lamot, 84.

One firefighter in particular, Todd Guertin, a member of the union leadership, said yesterday morning that the family of the woman should sue the city for wrongful death and that Mayor Fiorentini is guilty of murder.

“This was a political move when the city has over $10 million in reserves,” Guertin said. “The mayor should be charged with murder for taking the rescue truck out of service over a dispute with the union.”

That is an appalling statement for which both the city and the union should demand an apology.

Exactly.

Grief does things to the mind. It causes reasonable, sane people to make outrageous statements. It puts people on the defensive. And we deny realities that are right in front of us.

When all is said and done, it’s pointless to place blame.

Firefighters went to the scene and did their job. Unfortunately, a woman didn’t make it out alive. It sucks, but it happens.

The city cut resources from the fire department because of a budget crunch. It sucks, but it happens.

We can never know if a couple more people would have made the difference.

The investigation The Eagle-Tribune calls for should happen. We may well learn something from it.

In the meantime, the firefighters union should stop trying to lay blame at someone else’s feet.

Death is a risk that comes with the job, whether the victim is a firefighter or someone he’s trying to save. You knew that when you signed up.

Own it.

Photo credit: PAUL BILODEAU/The Eagle-Tribune -- A firefighter continues to clean-up after a two-alarm fire at 477 Washington St. in Haverhill early Wednesday morning. One woman died and two others were taken to the hospital.

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2 thoughts on “Shame, Denial After Fatal Haverhill House Fire

  1. There is no worst feeling than watching someone die..its horrible.
    Yes. I signed up for this as many readers with no feelings like to write back, but we are human beings. We get frustrated. And when its your job to save someone, and your not given the proper manpower or equipment to do the job you’ve sworn and paid to do, and someone dies, you will question and “what if” yourself till the day
    you die.
    These people that we watch die or are unable to save whether its a medical call, car crash, fire etc. live inside us forever.
    We don’t ask or want any extra pay seeing someone die. We want the proper equipment and manpower to help us carry out the job we were sworn to do. We don’t want to die either.
    We will if it saves someones life. Yes, I signed up for that too but you can’t put a price tag or balance a budget on that.
    The cities and towns have and obligation to give the fire department the services and equipment they need to protect the citizens and firefighters themselves.
    We are human. We make mistakes.
    Please try and don’t be so critical of the Haverhill Firefighters. They are grieving the loss of this woman too. They have apologized for comments made due to frustration and “what ifs”.
    When you watch someone die or are unable to save them, you are not thinking about a raise or if I only made more money. You are thinking “what if we had more help” or what if we had this piece of equipment”.
    We will be there 24/7 for you and do the best we can with what we have.
    But remember, we are humans, we are parents, sons, daughters and residents too.
    And we hurt like everyone else. Remember that when you need us..

  2. It is a horrible tragedy and it is unfortunate that any one is blamed and my heart goes out to the family, but what if the Mayor did shut down the Rescue and he had the money? What if he shut down the Rescue ought of spite and placed citizen’s lives in grave danger?
    If this is true is he criminally responsible for this?
    What do you think?

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