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.
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.
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.