OUR VIEW: Cops, firefighters can’t always save us (poll)

October 26, 2012
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Those who build homes on the Midwest plains may lose their lives and properties to killer tornadoes, long before authorities arrive to save them. Families residing in river valleys may be swept away by flash floods, long before rescuers show up. Those who live on or near forested mountains may lose everything to fire, just moments after a strong wind shifts. They’re fortunate if authorities save them.

We live in a dangerous world. Call 911 from a hijacked plane and there isn’t much the dispatcher can do.

Our lives and our homes are temporary, just a blip in time relative to the age of Earth. Humans are their own first line of defense from that which may kill and destroy. Authorities are a second line of protection. If they arrive before danger strikes, call the Vatican and report a miracle.

That is reality, which adults should accept. With that understanding, give thanks to God — along with his volunteers and hundreds of government employees — that most lives were saved when the Waldo Canyon fire burned 346 homes. Thank them for the countless homes that would have burned, if not for firefighters and cops risking their lives around the clock to save whatever and whomever possible. It is irreversibly tragic that two lives were lost. It is also extraordinary that hundreds were saved.

Four months after the fire, it is appropriate to examine what went right and wrong with the emergency response. Mostly, it went right. City government issued a 34-page report this week that will give anyone an opportunity to look back at the crisis and determine what worked well and what could have gone better. We may appreciate this process the next time our community is threatened by a large-scale emergency. One problem identified by the report was looting that occurred after voluntary evacuations, before increased patrols were on the ground in evacuation areas. The report advises that we train noncommissioned city employees to assist with directing traffic and manning roadblocks, so cops can focus on crime and public safety.

“We did the best we could,” Police Chief Pete Carey said Tuesday, after the report went public.

Carey, his department and the city bureaucracy did a fantastic job. They have nothing for which to apologize.

Neither does Mayor Steve Bach, who was dressed down at a meeting on Wednesday by a local physician who lost her home. She even blamed Bach for the deaths of William and Barbara Everette. She asked the mayor to resign, claiming he did not evacuate her neighborhood.

We can only imagine the doctor’s grief over losing a home. But to blame a politician — a man we saw working night and day at command central of the fire — is ludicrous. It’s like blaming a physician if we inhale a germ. Why didn’t she warn us, and intervene, before we caught the flu?

Yes, we should learn from our response to Waldo. Mostly, we should recognize that it was outstanding and acknowledge that government cannot always save us from death and destruction.

That's our view, so what's yours? Please begin or contribute to a Facebook discussion below this article and vote in poll to the right.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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