Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Firefighters to chief: we're professionals

This is just a taste of things to come. Birmingham, UK:
Firefighters in the West Midlands said today they had been told to stop attending incidents involving birds as fears grew over avian flu.

Firemen claimed the bird ban had been announced to all stations just days after the first case of the deadly H5N1 virus was discovered in France.

Deputy chief fire officer Vijith Randeniya told staff in the leaked memo: "We are not to attend any calls to stranded or distressed birds even if requested by the RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals]."

The move could mean crews refusing to attend fires at pet shops and farms and homes with aviaries and pigeon lofts.

If they do turn up where human life is at risk they would have to wear full chemical protection suits.


One firefighter said: "We normally attend all incidents involving animals if asked to by the RSPCA. It's utter nonsense and completely unworkable. What happens if we go to a house fire if they've got a pet budgie or aviary?

"Do we say 'sorry mate, we can't put out your fire because we might catch bird flu'?"

The memo has sparked widespread unease among firefighters who fear they will be unable to do their jobs properly.

Another firefighter said it had left him "embarrassed" to wear his uniform. (Birmingham Mail)
The interesting part of this story is that the firefighters weren't buying it. Unlike some, I believe we will see a great deal of professional behavior from our civil servants, doctors, nurses and other essential workers. But I also worry that widespread predictions to the contrary will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

No one knows how they will behave in a crisis. But human experience tells us most people acquite themselves admirably, especially when they understand what is happening and what the stakes are.

In the meantime, my hat's off to these guys.