Wilmington, DE (April 6, 2012) -- It's been a busy week for volunteer firefighters in New Castle County, Delaware, and fire departments across the nation have learned the details thanks to software known as a news aggregator. In this case, the automatic system discovered the terms firefighters, structure fire, injured firefighter on DelawareOnline, the web version of Delaware's News-Journal.
These aggregators make life easy for news editors (TV, radio, print and the web) providing stories and features that may be of interest to specific demographic audiences. A prime example exists right here, FirefighterNation.com. Several times each day -- or based on a pre-determined delivery schedule -- news aggregators from major newspapers, wire services and TV stations update fire-rescue news headlines, automatically publishing a story before a site editor has an opportunity to review. Back in the day, these were known as rip and read stories, with the announcer going on the air without ever having read the story. Although the idea is similar, the current process is completed electronically in nanoseconds.
Even though it's a Godsend to editors of fire-rescue-EMS websites -- often times those of us who are subjects of a story are thrown under the bus, often being ridiculed by our peers and citizens we protect. Admittedly, there are times, for example when a firefighter is found guilty of arson, that the story is accurate -- simply reporting a statement of fact. Unfortunately, other feeds come from the dregs of the earth -- the yellow journalists. Dennis Smith is cringing because he was not only a firefighter advocate but the consummate journalist.
Last week, The New York Post, long known for its disdain of firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers, ran a story with the following headline. "FDNY Retiree Works for NASCAR Fire Crew While Collecting City Disability Pension." The headline writers at the Post are well trained, knowing that if they include terms like FDNY, NASCAR and Fire Crew the news aggregators will kick into action forwarding the story to sites like Fire-Rescue-1, Firefighter Nation, Firehouse.com, and hundreds of others. I've been told by adding NASCAR to the title, the story was distributed to thousands of other sites -- mostly country music radio station websites.
I was horrified when I saw that so many fire-rescue sites ran the story, because as a journalist I instantly recognized that the piece was riddled with inaccuracies and fabrications. The paper claims to have exposed a hero firefighter claiming that he asked for a disability pension so he could volunteer as a NASCAR firefighter. Unfortunately, many firefighters and citizens take the Post's false allegations as gospel truth because they aren't savy to journalistic tricks ir aware of how the pension system works.
The firefighter accused, assigned to Rescue Company 3, had served at Ground Zero for months determined to bring the brothers home. We know that to be true by simply checking the house journal. Unfortunately, during his time on the pile, the firefighter sustained long term injuries and the department called him in for testing. Physicians recommended that he be retired and so ruled the Disability Board. One day he was assigned to one of the great Rescue Companies...the next he's sitting at home watching TV. When you retire, is your plan to sit in a wheel chair, watch the flat screen until you flatline?
The conditions of employment with the FDNY are clear, with one of the most important being able to do the job without causing injury to yourself or endangering fellow firefighters. That's what happened to the Rescue-3 firefighter, like thousands of others who were put to pasture in 2002. And like his colleagues the irons mans from Rescue 3 had no intention of leaving the job as he was looking forward to having his own command someday. The events of 9/11 changed so many lives, but in particular veteran firefighters of the FDNY.
I've checked with attorneys and the Manhattan Prosecutor's office and the firefighter has done nothing whatsoever to break the law. "The system was in place long before he took his oath" one attorney said. "If there's a problem, it's not with the firefighter...it's with the pension system."
Of course, what I've just noted in these previous paragraphs were never written into the NY Post story. Why would they? As I mentioned earlier, the writer is tasked to develop a story based on the headline not by truth and accuracy. And it's that headline that places sites like Firehouse.com on my "never return to list."
In all honesty, I must give props to Fire-Rescue-1 because not long after the aggregator story appeared, senior editor Rick Markley asked me to post my OP ED onto FR1's online edition. Here on FirefighterNation I posted the same OP ED, once again with positive results. Guess what? Firehouse.com wouldn't allow me to post -- but they did allow our brother firefighters to respond to the NY Post article. That's when I became disgusted and angered.
Here's a sample of responses which appear on Firehouse.com.
Reader: "You can talk all about this crap about being assigned to Rescue 3 for FDNY (so what?). The guy is a piece of sh!t and should be in jail."
Reader: "Not all fireman abide by the honesty creedo.......there are alot of public safety personnel that are in these jobs to see what they can get for themselves."
Reader: "Let's not kiss this guy's ass because he was a fireman. There are no SAINT's riding on any fire trucks in this country. This guy deserves to lose his disability."
None of the responses listed here are informed. I asked the individuals via email to site some of the specifics from the story and they could not. Their entire opinion regarding Firefighter Cliff Stabner was formed based on what an aggregator told them -- the story's headline.
I urge the major Fire-Rescue websites and the dozens of excellent emergency services bloggers, to keep an eye on their aggregator feeds. Stories about the convicted arsonist need to be shared so other departments can learn how to weed out the stray member. But to publish a one-sided, factually incorrect story isn't fair to Cliff Stabner -- nor the remainder of us who ride the jumpseat for a living or as an avocation.
Your comments are invited.
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