Firefighters Posing in Front of Controlled Burn Structure Fire

I saw this photo earlier this morning at and it has been on my mind much of the day. I didn’t read the story and I didn’t read it now. Honestly, I can’t get past the photo. I have just read many of the reader comments and relieved that I am not the only one troubled by this photo.


Several disclaimers. I am not a firefighter, but have great admiration for the dedication firefighters make to their community. I read and edit lots of firefighter training articles. I also read every USFA line of duty death report and lots of NIOSH fatality investigations. Finally, I once was the photographer at a controlled burn and took several photos very similar to this. 

1. The idea of a “controlled” burn is a misnomer to me. There are too many variables to believe that this is a controlled event. Unfortunately the word control lowers the the perception of risk well below the actual risk.

2. We can’t see the little micro-particles in the air that are really bad for us.  A professional firefighter and firefighter educator recently asked me to watch and review his presentation about the incidence of cancer in the fire service. It was excellent and the data is jaw dropping. Firefighters are exposed to an amazing potpourri of toxins. There is risk through inhalation during the incident and ongoing exposure through contamination of clothing and equipment. This air is not safe.

3. Walls engulfed in flames collapse whatever direction they please. I can’t tell from the photo, but they look to be inches to a few feet away from this structure. Maybe because I have watched too much television I envision a cloud of smoke, debris, and fire mushrooming out from the building as the roof and walls collapse.

4. Firefighters are regularly killed battling structure fires. I agonize about each of their deaths because all too often they leave behind a spouse and children after dying to protect an empty building or a structure where there is no hope of survivors. The cavalier poses of the firefighters made my stomach turn this morning.

I am not sure if there is a suitable parallel in EMS. Is there??? I know there are many times when we misjudge the difference between actual risk and perceived risk (driving red lights and sirens and not wearing a seatbelt in the patient care compartment are two that easily come to mind).

Your turn. How does this photo make you feel? You are the company officer and this is your crew. Do you allow the photo? Why or why not? 

By Greg

Elearning designer, writer, podcaster, blogger, presenter and paramedic. To relax I run and bike as far and as fast as I can. Also like to read a lot and fast.