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“We have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety”

Reported by Lucy Bannerman in today’s Times:

Fire kills child, 3, and parents as police prevent neighbours from trying to rescue them

A pregnant woman, her husband and their three-year-old son were killed in a house fire early yesterday as police who arrived before the fire brigade prevented neighbours from trying to save them. The woman screamed: “Please save my kids” from a bedroom window and neighbours tried to help but were beaten back by flames and were told by police not to attempt a rescue.

By the time firefighters got into the house in Doncaster, Michelle Colly, 25, her husband, Mark, 29, and son, Louis, 3, were dead. Their daughter, Sophie, 5, was taken to hospital and believed to be critically ill.

Davey Davis, 38, a friend of the family, said: “It was the most harrowing thing I have ever witnessed. Michelle was at the bedroom window yelling, ‘Please save my kids’ and we wanted to help but the police were pushing us back and not allowing us near. We were willing to risk our lives to save those kiddies but the police wouldn’t let us.

“Tempers were running very high, particularly with the women who were there, but the police were just saying we have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety.

“There were four or five police officers. They were here before the fire brigade. We heard the sirens and we came across to help but they wouldn’t let us.

“I thought the police were there to protect lives. At one time they would have have gone inside themselves to try and rescue them.

“When a family is burning to death in front of your eyes, rules should go out of the window – especially with kids. Everybody wanted to try and help.”

In a previous post about loss of nerve in our public services I said, referring to instances in which firemen and policemen had “broken procedure” to save life, that despite their personal courage “institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.”

Seems like the poison has worked its way well in. Note: I do not know whether the Colly family could have been saved had the attempt been made while Mrs Colly was still alive to scream for someone to save her kids. A spokeswoman for the South Yorkshire Police said, “The senior officer in charge is confident we handled this incident as professionally as possible. In a situation like that you could end up with more deceased bodies than you had in the first place.”

One of the lesser known sights of London is the Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park. I gather it featured in the film Closer, starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law. No, I am not being funny, suddenly veering off into a travelogue in the middle of a post about the deaths of a family. I wish there were something to laugh about. The memorial was set up by a Victorian artist, George Frederick Watts, to commemorate those who died saving others. It consists of hand made plaques each bearing the name of a person who sacrificed his or her life and a brief citation. Very quaint they are, with their crowded lettering with the extra-large initial capitals and little swirly plant motifs and curlicues in the corners. Even the names are quaint, laboriously given in full. Police Constables Percy Edwin Cook, Edward George Brown Greenoff, Harold Frank Ricketts and George Stephen Funnell are among them. I wonder what PC Percy Edwin Cook, for instance, who perished when he “Voluntarily descended high tension chamber at Kensington to rescue two workmen overcome by poisonous gas” would have made of his successors in the South Yorkshire force.

Perhaps the police spokeswoman was right. Perhaps if health and safety had been less comprehensively assured and the Colly incident handled rather less professionally, we would have ended up with more than the three “deceased bodies” – no, make that four, when you count the child expected to be born in two weeks – that we did end up with. Still, more than four dead bodies is quite a lot and quite unlikely, I cannot help thinking. And I also cannot help thinking that there is more to this than just counting the dead under different scenarios. If the critically injured five year old girl does survive she will be burdened by more than just the fact that her family died. She will eventually have to know that those who might have answered her mother’s last desperate appeal were held back on grounds of “health and safety.” Not theirs, obviously.

UPDATE: Other accounts give the spelling of the family name as “Colley”. They confirm that the police actively prevented rescue attempts.

FURTHER UPDATE: There is a thoughtful discussion in the comments regarding several moral and practical questions, and whether the press accounts are to be trusted. Quite possibly not. Yet I must add that if the South Yorkshire police are trying to convince me that they are not abdicating responsibility in order to follow rote “health and safety” procedure (as commenter “sjv” put it), then best not claim, as they appeared to in the Mail report linked to in the word “other”, that the reason they will not tell us exactly how long elapsed between the arrival of the police and the arrival of the firemen is “‘data protection’ rules.”

72 comments to “We have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety”

  • fairlyoldguy

    That really sucks…here in New York City, you know damn well that the cops would have gone in and tried to rescue these people. But your cops were cowards themselves and prevented others from going in… wow, this is depressing,

  • Jerry

    “I thought the police were there to protect lives.’

    There’s the FIRST misunderstanding, sadly.

  • llamas

    Think for a minute about what it must feel like to step forward and be ready to offer up your well-being – and maybe your life – for another – and to be told by an officer of the state ‘No, you may not do so, and I will stop you if you try.’

    Imagine how such a person must feel this morning. And then imagine how the police officer must feel, who was forced to do that – and who was him(her)self contrained from doing the same.

    A certain well-known author has written his observations of young naval oficers in time of war. Although undoubtedly brave enough (as he described) to press home a torpedo attack in the face of overwhelming opposition, or to expose themselves unflinchingly to enemy fire to save a comrade, very few were ever willing to commit Naval funds for expenditure on their own authority. To be asked to do so, it was felt, was unfair to them, because if their decision were ever questioned or turned out to be mistaken, they would be personally ruined and their families shamed.

    The few exceptions, our narrator described, inevitably turned out to be those with substantial private means, whose families did not depend upon their pay (or a widow’s pension) and who would not be financially ruined by State hindsight over a poor decision, however honourably-made.

    In times gone by, an officer, or a citizen, who risked their own life to save another, even against impossible odds, would be feted as a hero, and such a one who gave his/her own life, even in a failed attempt to save another, would die an honoured death knowing that those who depended upon him/her would be taken care of and his/her name would live in honour. How terrible it must be to know that the state has now decided that such honourable behaviour is no longer to be tolerated, and that the state has a such a stranglehold upon its servants and its citizens that it can make it stick.

    Gretater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for another – that is, unless health and safety regulations have been broken.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Thats sickening. I hope I would have had the guts to floor the cops and go in anyway.

  • Patrick B

    I felt physically sick on reading the South Yorkshire spokesman’s words:

    “The senior officer in charge is confident we handled this incident as professionally as possible. In a situation like that you could end up with more deceased bodies than you had in the first place.”

    Such self-congratulation is a mark of how far the UK has fallen. And “deceased bodies”? Ignorant to boot.

  • I’d be happy to trust my luck with a jury of my peers when I explain why I kicked a Copper in the balls prior to the attempted rescue. THAT is the correct response.

  • Richard Garner

    Perry, that should be the next quote of the day!

  • Ian B

    My gut reaction is much the same as everybody else’s. But it’s possible that the situation was already hopeless and the police restrained these people from killing themselves pointlessly. I’d think even in the more daring past, if a copper has judged that it’s an impenetrable inferno, he may have restrained a foolhardy member of the general public from rushing in. The Elfin Safety newspeak might be misleading us in this case. It’s how the state’s appendages are taught to speak these days whatever the situation. It is worth remembering that people who have died heroically in the attempt have actually failed.

  • Ian B

    You’re obviously new to the internet.

    Such cogent reasoning and balance is a gross breach of etiquette.

    Shame on you. Hit yourself with your keyboard 12 times and say six Heil Hitlers.

    AJ

  • Ian, I had the same thought, but problem is that it is based on the assumption that the cops had a better ability to access the risk than the neighbors did. Personally I would not be willing to bet people’s lives on such an assumption, but I could be wrong.

  • Midwesterner

    Ian, are you sure you want to use the word “pointlessly” ? “To no avail”, perhaps. But are “pointless” and “to no avail” synonyms? I think not.

    An assumption of dubious merit that the police made is that they are better able to understand the logistics of a rescue than those volunteering. Perhaps, but in that case why did they have to wait for the ‘experts’? Are police to be entitled to cause a certain death in an effort to prevent a possible death? That should require a standard of certainty not likely available here unless the volunteer was clearly drunk or in some other way not in their own mind.

    But to me, most offensive is the unpleasant presumption in this priority. The government’s policy is that “you may not waste your life without our permission.” The presumption is that your life is the government’s, not your own.

    Also I have to wonder how much of this to lay at the feet of the NHS. Once medical care is socialized, the presumption is that you may not elect to ‘waste public resources’. There is some of that attitude in helmet laws that are justified because ‘society has to pay for the medical costs when you engage in dangerous behavior’.

  • TomC

    In a society without a state, policing would be a private concern, financed by interested parties, such as road providers, town corporations, commercial interests and insurance companies. Fire extinction companies would undoubtably be an arm of the insurance industry.

    If people wanted to put their lives on the line to save their fellow humans, they would be entirely free to do so. This tragedy is another sad indictment of statism.

  • Ian B

    But are “pointless” and “to no avail” synonyms? I think not.

    You’re nitpicking me there MW. If a rescue attempt is hopeless, it is both pointless and “to no avail”, unless one is actively seeking a posthumous accolade. Which may be true, but probably not something we need to discuss here.

    An assumption of dubious merit that the police made is that they are better able to understand the logistics of a rescue than those volunteering. Perhaps, but in that case why did they have to wait for the ‘experts’?

    Possibly because the ‘experts’ had fire fighting equipment and breathing apparatus. It is not unreasonable to say that there were things the fire brigade could do that the police and bystanders physically could not do, like direct jets of water onto the fire and walk through thick smoke. There’s nothing in the article that says the police were waiting for expertise- though it’s not unreasonable to think the fire brigade do have some expertise in firefighting- rather than not being equipped to do any more.

    But to me, most offensive is the unpleasant presumption in this priority. The government’s policy is that “you may not waste your life without our permission.” The presumption is that your life is the government’s, not your own.

    I absolutely believe that anyone has the right to waste their life. But I think pragmatically it has always been the case that emergency services have attempted to preserve life and would restrain a foolhardy person under some circumstances. I’m sure I’ve seen cliched scenes in old movies of a character rushing forward in such a situation and a policeman (or other civilian) grabbing hold of him and saying “there’s nothing you can do man, it’s too late!” kind of thing. So the point here is there is a rush to assume that this is down to health and safety fascism and while that might be the case, it also might not be. Police, rescue workers etc have always been in positions of making life and death decisions on behalf of others. So I’m questioning whether this is really symptomatic of this new phenomenon or not. Whether we’re jumping to conclusions because of our own bias against elfin safetyism.

  • Dutch Guy

    It’s besides the point to debate what risking you would be taking in a situation like that.

    The point is this; You own your life. therefore it must be you that decides to risk it or not.

    That’s your choice not some mindless bureaucrat.

    What’s next, no more mountain climbing?

    We must be free to think and act in accordance with our rational judgment as long we we do not initiate force of commit fraud.

  • Midwesterner

    I assumed having a ‘point’ meant having a ‘purpose’. Clearly an attempt at rescue would not be without a purpose.

    I didn’t understand it clearly from the article but apparently there was still one child alive to be rescued when the fire department eventually got there. Considering that police are active on patrol and fire departments have to suit up, start their vehicles and depart from a central point, there may have been a substantial gap between between the police preventing rescue attempts and the fire department arriving with the equipment you describe. Fires are like heart attacks. Passing minutes square the odds against a favorable outcome. Good Samaritans must never be prohibited unless the volunteer is clearly mentally impaired.

    If it is simply a matter of equipment, then you appear to be saying that no rescue attempts are to be permitted without approved equipment and approved training. But if the police are qualified to say it was a lost cause, then citizen volunteers are as qualified to say maybe not.

    Police, rescue workers etc have always been in positions of making life and death decisions on behalf of others.

    Actually, no they haven’t. Police are an invention of the late 19th century and professional rescue/fire workers are an even more recent invention. There are still very large expanses of the US that have all volunteer fire/rescue departments. Throughout history neighbors have helped neighbors. Eliminating that option would destroy something intrinsic to being human.

  • Richard Thomas

    Surely the state does not have any valid claims on our lives. But when extreme emotions may cloud judgment, is there perhaps a basic human duty to protect others from unwise impulsive behavior.

    Having lost two close family members in a failed attempted rescue (one the attempted rescuer and one the attempted rescuee) and with several of the emergency responders who tried to help subsequently ending up in the hospital… Well, my father’s attempt was heroic to be sure and I’m sure he would have had trouble living with himself if he hadn’t tried. But let’s just say I’m still trying to make sense of it.

  • Ian B

    If it is simply a matter of equipment, then you appear to be saying that no rescue attempts are to be permitted without approved equipment and approved training. But if the police are qualified to say it was a lost cause, then citizen volunteers are as qualified to say maybe

    I’m not saying that at all MW, you’re arguing against a straw man. My comment was a discussion of what actually happened, not whether in a society of liberty one man may prevent another squandering his life. Of course he can’t. That wasn’t my point. It was addressing whether we are too eager to blame this tragedy on that which we despise- bureaucracy, tyranny, whatever- and that perhaps it was just the police as human beings trying to do the right thing and prevent more needless deaths.

    I don’t know the answer to that, and neither does anyone else here. Maybe those people could have been saved, in which case our heroic neighbours should have just pushed the police out of the way. There were only 4 or 5 of them. Had I been convinced I could help, I would have done. There’s no use standing there taking orders then complaining afterwards.

    But if this fire was raging such that the mother was trapped in a room, it sounds like it was at a considerably advanced stage and maybe the police’s attitude was the right one, or at least a reasonable one. It would most properly be advice rather than an order to the members of the public and, again, I am not suggesting that the police should be able to prevent them trying.

    But neither should we automatically presume that the police were wrong in their assessment of the situation, and neither should we expect them to kill themselves for what they themselves consider a vain hope, which the article implies.

  • Our life is our own, and so we are the only ones who are entitled to decide under which circumstances it is actually worth living. The only role for bystanders (and for this purpose police should be viewed as such) I can see is making sure to the best of their ability that the people making these decisions are of sound mind. I am sorry for your loss Richard.

  • Ian, I see your point and I agree. But, there is this fine line (which you seem to acknowledge) between a friendly person holding someone while trying to talk sense into them, and forcefully preventing anyone from doing anything, as if all of them (i.e. the neighbors) were suicidal fools, and they (the cops or their superiors) knew better by definition, which is the impression I get from the neighbors’ testimonies.

  • A “big difference” rather than “fine line” is more like it. Bedtime.

  • Dale Amon

    I am nearly speechless. It is one thing for a man to be a coward. It is entirely another for him to prevent his betters from trying to take action.

    Whatever their names are, I hope the people in that neighborhood post their names on the net for all to see, so that henceforth everyone who sees them will say “COWARD!” and turn their back on them.

    They are unfit to be in the company of free people.

  • sjv

    Ian B. is right to a degree. Had the police simply held people back, even forcibly, because they had used their judgment to decide rescue was hopeless, it would have been tragic but understandable.

    But threatening with “health and welfare” regulations gives the impression they are abdicating responsibility and following rote procedure, and that is reprehensible.

  • Ian B

    Well, again, I know everyone wants (like I do, at at gut level) to rail against regulations, but is this just a kneejerk? The police talk elfinspeak, and lots of other people do. DId they just say “stand back for your own safety”? They aren’t robots. Even the most eager chest-thumper has to acknowledge the policeman in charge applied some level of judgement to the situation. I think everybody’s being a bit to keen to cram this into a narrative. Are we turning “stay back for your own safety” into an image of a policeman sternly quoting rules and subparagraphs from a book of regulations, because that’s what fits our worldview?

    The Daily Mirror report has the same witness quote. It also quote another neighbour saying they begged the woman to throw the children out the window to them, but she didn’t and then disappeared (overcome by smoke?) That same witness describes them trying to get a ladder to the window but being unable to because of flames from the ground floor. So maybe we have a larger picture of people milling about, and people getting ladders, and the police trying to stop more deaths by ill-considered heroism, and some amount of confusion, and people and police yelling at each other, and all sorts I’ll be bound.

    When I did history at school, we were taught to seek as many sources as possible before forming a judgement. I don’t think there’s any particular harm in not leaping to conclusions.

  • I don’t wholly disagree with Ian B’s caution. I did try to acknowledge in my post that the police may have been correct to say that rescue attempts might simply have resulted in more deaths. I also note Ian B’s point that the police holding people back is not wholly new.

    Another thing I must acknowledge: accounts in the press often contain mistakes and exaggerations.

    Nonetheless I get the strong impression that there was some hope in this case and the police basically went into wait-for-the-grownups mode, forgetting that they were the grownups. Furthermore, as I also tried to express in the post, I attach a value to even irrational and fatal bravery with the aim of saving lives – as the police themselves did in times gone by.

    And it’s a small point, and one also subject to the caveats about newspaper reporting, but if the South Yorkshire police are trying to convince me that they are not abdicating responsibility (as “sjv” put it in the comment above), then best not claim, as they appeared to in the Mail report linked to in the word “other”, that the reason they will not tell us exactly how long elapsed between the arrival of the police and the arrival of the firemen is “‘data protection’ rules.”

  • Sunfish

    Did the police actually SAY that, or did the reporter write that himself?

    I forgot. Story (written by a journalist, with all of the care for truth and detail that has endeared such people to us) makes police look bad. And since it’s the police, let’s just skip straight to the torches and pitchforks part.

    Yes, children, I know this doesn’t look good. I don’t think the story was meant to look good.

  • Before myself going to bed I am going to add a modified version of my last comment as an update to the main post.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Ian, this is not the first case of its’ kind. I am reading a book called ‘The Assault on Liberty’, by Dominic Raab. In places, it reads like tory propaganda- he writes as though the rot only set in from 1997 onwards. However, when talking about the influence of over-regulation, he mentions various cases where the police did nothing because they hadn’t been properly trained, or at least where they used that as their excuse. So this case fits into a wider pattern of Britain being white-anted into conformity and bureaucratic inertia- didn’t Phillip Adams write a prophecy about britains becoming Vogons, disguising it as science fiction- ‘Not evil, but petty-minded to an incredible degree.’? You can find it in ‘hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy’.

  • reg

    how these police can look at themselves in the mirror is beyond me.anglo saxon civilization was not built by this ridiculous calculation.i doubt that officers on the birkenhead were adding and subtracting trying to decide what to do.to think that people were burning to death and the police were preventing any assistance, that is incomprehensible.here in canada we are thought of as more docile than americans, but no cop would have the balls to stop someone from helping, then again they cops would be leading come hell or high water.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Little ditty from my Army days:

    No balls at all,
    No balls at all,
    Hardly a penis and no balls at all.

    Here in the Colonies heads would roll.

  • comatus

    “But neither Cold nor Darkness will deter good People, who are able, from hastening to the dreadful Place, and giving their best Assistance to quench the Flames”

    Letter to the Gazette
    from Philadelphia fireman
    Benjamin Franklin, 1773.

  • Linda Morgan

    With all sympathy for the horrorstruck neighbors and all respect for their frantic desire to do something — anything — to help, I have to wonder how they could have possibly triumphed over the raging conflagration when they couldn’t subdue the “four or five” cops.

    That’s all I have words for.

  • permanentexpat

    Serious stuff…serious opinions.
    On a lighter plane:

    What’s next, no more mountain climbing?

    . says Dutch Guy.
    No doubt writing from the snowy fastnesses of the Apeldoorn Bergkette 8-))

  • Eric

    The Elfin Safety newspeak might be misleading us in this case. It’s how the state’s appendages are taught to speak these days whatever the situation. It is worth remembering that people who have died heroically in the attempt have actually failed.

    It’s possible, but this is one of those situations where the people involved should have the right to make the decision. I’m all for the bobbies advising against it, but the would-be rescuers should not have been prevented from going.

  • sjv nails it(Link). Compare “it’s too late, man, there’s nothing anyone can do” with “We have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety”. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, somehow, does it?
    To be fair, the article does say

    neighbours tried to help but were beaten back by flames

  • Anecdotal, to be sure, but I’ve run into the same sort of ‘tude (although not in as calamatous a situation) = my son and I were strolling on the capital mall in DC, approaching the WWII memorial entrance. Halfway back the block towards Constitution, a Brit tourist (later found out his nationality) had some sort of siezure, and fell to the ground foaming and biting his tongue – to the point he was beginning to aspirate it and in real danger of choking to death.

    To make a long story short – the cops that responded basically just popped on latex gloves, then stood around yapping in their radios, waiting for the EMTs. They didn’t stop my son and I from continuing our initial assesment and efforts to comfort the man and his wife while help arrived – but the mindless ‘professional’ detachment on display leaves me little doubt that if the uniformed personnel present were given ‘official’ guidance to ‘stop people from exposing themselves to risk by coming into contact with potentially contaminated fluids’ they probably would have efficiently and professionally told or made us stop tending the victim – without batting an eye.

    It’s that ‘I don’t give a shit but as long as I color inside the lines they draw me, no one will fuck with me’ attitude.

    Infuriatingly loathsome, but much less filling, with fewer calories.

  • I don’t know about the UK, but I recently read this lewrockwell.com article by Michael Gaddy(Link), a [U.S.] Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, in which he writes,

    The Supreme Court has consistently ruled the police have no obligation to defend the individual.

    He provides specifics in the article.(Link)

  • pst314

    If bystanders are allowed to rescue their neighbors, they might be killed in the attempt. But the worse danger is that they might not be killed and citizens would rediscover that they are capable of protecting themselves.

  • Laird

    Leaving aside Ian B’s reasonable points about not jumping to conclusions or taking newspaper reports at face value, isn’t this really the same issue (in microcosm) of “the authorities” ordering people to leave their homes in times of danger, such as hurricane (think New Orleans during Katrina) or fire (southern California during their numerous wildfires) or other calamity (such as a derailed tank train loaded with hazardous chemicals)? By what moral authority does any government deny people the right to protect their homes and property, even if there is personal risk involved? A strong recommendation is fine, but to order them out? I have a problem with that.

  • mike

    Late to the thread again, as usual. This incident has me reaching across Amazon for a copy of the Gulag Archipelago. That is the general direction in which incidents like this are pointing.

    To awake the morning after a horror like that and remember that you didn’t kick the policeman in the balls – well that right there cannot be much short of the death of one’s soul. Horrible.

    Marc Sheffner: many thanks for the Michael Gaddy piece, I’m on to it now.

  • Dennis

    I’m just glad I didn’t have to make that decision. The choice between watching people killed and potentially watching even more people killed cannot be an easy one. I wasn’t there, and cannot second guess that tactical decision of the Officer in Charge.

  • Dennis: I very much agree to the extent that the “bravery” of those policemen is being questioned – far be it from me. Maybe I’m weird, but I really don’t expect anyone, including policemen or firemen to march towards a certain death (as it may have been the case here) to save someone’s life, except maybe for parents to save the lives of their children. But I do expect them to give others the choice to do so, if they so desire.

    Which reminds me (only partly OT) to urge everyone to watch Gran Torino.

  • Brian

    There is a small point, here.

    Once upon a time, if a police officer said something was so, everyone accepted it.

    Now, when a police officer says something is so, no-one in their right mind believes it.

    How did this happen?

    What can (or should) be done about it?

  • Much of the conclusion jumping here seems to come from people who have not even read the story.

    It makes it clear that people who DID try to rescue, I assume before the meddling Police got there, were unable to because the house was already engulfed in fire and it was too hot to enter.

    We know that the mother was on the second floor, and the man with the ladder couldn’t even get it against the house because of the heat.

    I suspect there might be some “I would have saved them, but the Police stopped me” braggartry going on here.

    And it would have been better if the Police statement had been something like, “Our Police officers’ judgement was that the fire was too advanced for anyone to try to enter the house. By preventing attempts, they saved lives and made it possible for firefighters to prevent the blaze from spreading.”

    Of course, one victim is still alive. But it’s not clear that she was still in the house when the Police arrived.

  • Linda: People are trained to obey authority figures. It took Milgram over 11,000 trials to find a subject who would use any kind of force to “rescue” the actor, instead of simply hitting the electrocute button.

  • Max

    Omaha World Herald had a front page article today on two men (non police/firemen) who entered a burning house and rescued a woman.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Alisa,
    I second your recommendation! ‘Gran Turino’ opened in January, and is still showing in cinemas here in April!

  • mike

    Read the comments thread again, staghounds. Your criticism has been dealt with already.

  • sjv

    isn’t this really the same issue (in microcosm) of “the authorities” ordering people to leave their homes in times of danger

    I grew up in New Orleans. Many people misunderstand what “mandatory evacuation” means. It does not mean the police will drag you away, or that you will be prosecuted or fined if you stay. It means that, if you decide to stay, the police and EMS won’t respond to any calls for help. “Son, you’re on your own”. To a lesser degree it means they will help you evacuate if you are disabled in some way. Should people be under the impression that they are “forced”, the authorities don’t have much incentive to correct this assumption, since they do not like dragging bodies out of flood waters more any more than anyone else does.

    I knew one cop who would knock on people’s doors asking for the contact information for their next of kin, “for when they die in the storm”. He claimed it was very effective in getting people to take the storm seriously.

  • I am linking this page with my blog.
    Here in NZ we had a similar occasion recently. A shopkeeper was robbed and suffered a gunshot wound. The police were called, but refused to allow any help to the dying man, who bled to death after 20mins. because “the area hadn’t been secured.”
    see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10516250

    Thre is a culture of safety at work here, in a profession where danger is always present. Initiative has been stifled, in the guise of “procedure”. A triumph for the Sir Humphrey’s of the world…

  • Laird

    Sorry, sjv, I’m not buying your story. Perhaps that was the case some time ago, but I’ve seen the videos of people being forcibly dragged out of their houses. And how many times have we read about people prohibited by the “authorities” from returning to their homes until the danger of fire (or whatever) has passed to their (the authorities’) satisfaction? “Mandatory” evacuation means exactly what it says. So my question still stands: by what right?

  • Tim in TX

    When something like this occurs and results in no more response from the authorities than assorted bland bullshit excuses, then you know your society is truly doomed.

    There are plenty of fine individuals in the UK (I know quite a few personally), but obviously they are as of late outnumbered by the blithering idiots.

    I look into the comments on news articles and see a 50/50 ratio between outrage and fools parroting the authorities. They bring us such profound statements as “but the police said they might get hurt!”, and “but they don’t have the proper equipment!”

    This is utterly appalling; if you don’t like the odds, then don’t go – but that in no way excuses efforts to prevent someone from trying their luck. People have been rushing into burning buildings for thousands of years; it is not rocket science. You avoid the bright colored burny bits (this would be the fire), try not to suck in too much smoke, and hope you don’t die. Often as not you will, but you knew that before you went in. And yet you did go in –

    A number of years ago, I had an old drill sergeant. This man was fighting a losing battle with forced retirement due to age. One day, he sat us all down and asked us what made for good character. His answer? Doing the right thing when you don’t think anyone is watching. Next he asked us the difference between fulfilling one’s duty and being a hero, and told us this story;

    Many years ago, there was a young man and his wife walking home late from the theater. While taking a shortcut home through a train yard, the young lady’s foot fell between two railroad ties, and her ankle became trapped. The two tried for a short while to free her as a number of people – rail workers, and some hobos (homeless persons) took notice.

    I can see you can tell where this is going – soon it was evident that a train was approaching. The young man tried, and tried, and her ankle simply would not come free. As the train approached, one of the hobos went over and attempted to help.

    And now, at this point, I ask, who acted heroically? Obviously not the poor young lady, run down by the train. Nor her husband, who anyone (at that time, anyways) would agree had fulfilled his duty by giving his best effort until he met the same end.

    It was the hobo, whom no one could argue had a duty to be run down by that train – but who was.

    I don’t know if the story was true or not; it really doesn’t matter. I’ll remember it until the day I die.

    Now I ask you, precisely what ratio of “disgusting”, “appalling”, and “utterly ridiculous” would you use to describe the situation, were a number of police officers to arrive on scene and prevent the young man and that hobo from rescuing that young lady?

    These people are truly, utterly mad.

  • Ian B

    So, the woman, her husband and the hobo all died? Why didn’t the latter two jump out of the way of the train?

    What’s the moral of this story? If a woman dies, I have to die too? Sort of, inverse suttee?

  • Bobbie

    The ‘Authorities’ will almost never be there when you need them. Very often, they aren’t even there ‘after’ you need them.

    Some years back, I was shot at with intent (very luckily, as it turned out, on the land of an ex-Thames Valley Police Firearms Officer, that knew all the ins and outs, and I was shot at by his neighbour). Luckily I wasn’t hurt, and went back to the farmhouse and we immediately called the Police.

    Eventually I gave up waiting, and the landowner told me he would call when they arrived. 15 minutes is the demanded and obligated maximum response time for a firearms incident, by the way . . .

    They turned up the following morning, and replied when asked why they hadn’t turned out as obliged to, “Well we didn’t want him shooting at us as well did we”!

    I tell you this, that incident eventually convinced me absolutely that law abiding citizens MUST BE ENCOURAGED to Keep and Bear Arms!

    Upon investigation after (you can bet I got really interested in the subject), it turns out that we have an unalienable Right to Keep and Bear Arms enshrined in Common Law and our 1688 Bill of Rights! Yet Parliament and the Law (which are supposed to safeguard our Rights, Liberties, and Freedoms) have ILLEGALLY contravened them!

    What the HELL is going on in our Country???

    The way things are rapidly going, things aren’t going to end well here, and it’s going to be a lot sooner than some people expect.

    And no, I don’t wish for the inevitable upheaval that will be involved, quite the opposite, and far from it, in fact, as it is all so completely stupid and unnecessary. But we are fast running out of time to avoid catastrophe here, in my honest opinion, and the criminals and corrupt that have run our Society into the ground, have their snouts so deep in the trough, they can’t see the inevitable approaching them from over the rim.

  • Ian B

    it turns out that we have an unalienable Right to Keep and Bear Arms enshrined in Common Law and our 1688 Bill of Rights confirms it! Yet Parliament and the Law (which are supposed to safeguard our Rights, Liberties, and Freedoms) have ILLEGALLY contravened them! What the HELL is going on in our Country???

    Well, it doesn’t work here like you think it does and it never has. In the USA, you have a Bill of Rights, and you can’t pass laws that contravene it. Here, if you pass a law that contravenes part of the Bill Of Rights, then it is taken that that part of the Bill of Rights has been repealed. There aren’t any restraints on parliament. They can’t do anything illegal, because everything they do is taken by definition to be legal. They’re absolutely sovereign. It’s an elected dictatorship and it always has been.

    It’s like, people bang on about Magna Carta. That’s been almost entirely repealed for a very long time, except one provision about a freedman being allowed to worry chickens within the City Of London’s walls, or something.
    It’d be nice if there were some restraint on the bastards, but there never has been. We don’t have any rights. Never have.

  • Here is my take on this one: http://charlescrawford.biz/blog.php?single=881

    It all wends its way back to the insane Precautionary Principle.

    A ‘principle’ which purports to insist that we do nothing unless we are sure that it brings a positive outcome (whether for the environment or anything else) is a guarantee of stagnation and stupidity. It is a form of displacement – it merely accumulates new costs and risks which may or not be hidden.

    The point of the principle is not, of course, to achieve anything useful.

    It is to let those who shout the loudest about risks get a policy veto.

    This does not always succeed. But the prospect that it might, and the very fact that such thinking is out there at all, serves to chill the soul – and shrink ambition.

    Which is why heroism as such is so dangerous to collectivists. The idea that humans might do extraordinary things and motivate people to act beyond themselves brings in an element on unpredictability and above all uncontrollability.

  • Dennis

    It was the hobo, whom no one could argue had a duty to be run down by that train – but who was.

    And if a policeman on the scene had dragged the Hobo out of the way, one fewer person would be dead. A person who dies in a failed attempt may be noble, but he’s still dead, and pointlessly. Life saving is not about romance, it’s abour results.

    That’s why I am unwilling to criticize the police in this incident. Unless I am persuasively convinced otherwise, I tend to defer to the tactical decision on the ground. It may even be wrong; tactical decisions often are. But unless it can be demonstrated to be culpable, there’s no fault to the cops.

    As I said, I’d not want to make the decision to allow people to die, or to allow other well meaning people to comit suicide in a futile attempt to do good. Dead would-be rescuers are dead failures. Preventing more people from dieing, even against their wishes, is arguably a good thing.

    There’s a lot of things wrong with the cops. Your cops, our cops, their cops. I’m just not convinced that this is one of them.

  • kentuckyliz

    About 10 years ago my neighbor’s house was on fire in the middle of the night, and someone driving by on the highway saw it…he came and knocked on my door because the light was on (I had fallen asleep watching TV). We called 911 and went to the house.

    A granny, a mom, and a boy lived there, and they were a poor hard-working family, and they were ALWAYS there. Mom worked the overnight shift so I knew it was likely that she wasn’t in the house. But I was certain the gramma and the boy were. This man, a total stranger, went into the yard, ignored being attacked by the German shepherd, broke a window, entered the burning house, and crawled around calling and looking for the gramma and the boy. In street clothes. He was not a firefighter.

    He couldn’t find them and came back out. When the fire department and ambulance arrived, they knew the mom because she was an ER nurse, and they called the hospital and told her the house was burning–and she said the gramma and the boy were not at home.

    It took me a while to figure it out, but it was insurance fraud. They couldn’t afford to maintain the house, and burnt it down instead for the insurance money to buy a new trailer.

    Risking a life of a heroic stranger in the process.

    Makes me sick.

  • sjv

    Perhaps that was the case some time ago, but I’ve seen the videos of people being forcibly dragged out of their houses.

    And I’ve seen videos of cops looting stores. Doesn’t mean it’s legal or even widespread. If you have a link to someone being “dragged” out of their houses for evacuation from an impending hurricane, I’d love to see it.

    That said, my experience is pre-Katrina Louisiana and Mississippi. I have no idea what they do in California for wildfire, for instance, though I do remember firefighters and police bitterly complaining on camera about people not following evacuation orders, something I don’t think would happen if they had the power to drag them out.

    As for not letting them back in, that is a different story. In New Orleans after Katrina, major roads into the city were closed, and there was a curfew, while the city was “closed”. I know people who simply returned by using back roads, and they weren’t hassled so long as they obeyed the curfew. I don’t know anyone who was stupid enough to stay through the storm, but from talking with people who were actually there, anyone who stayed and survived generally stayed afterward as well and none were “dragged out”.

    This story about Gustav:

    http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iaqPFgOtwP6s3sevineniiN-RBQA(Link)

    certainly implies that the authorities have no legal ability to force people out, and that they know it.

  • sjv

    Unless I am persuasively convinced otherwise, I tend to defer to the tactical decision on the ground.

    I agree. But if the part about citing “health and welfare” is correct (and this is the part that has people upset), then the police did not make a tactical decision, but instead parroted silly regulations while people died. Even if they simply used the regs as an excuse for a tactical decision they made, it says worlds about the culture of bureaucratization of the police, when they think that “it’s the rules” is a stronger argument than “you’re gonna die if you try”.

  • Tim in TX

    The responses to my comment indicate that I was correct – a lot of people simply don’t get it. They are only capable of viewing the world through their own eyes, and the entire world revolves around them. Me, me, me, me, me. I find the same sort of attitude in people who tell me that firefighters, policemen, soldiers, etc. are “stupid’ for risking, or giving, their lives for others. It is a sentiment that seems to be more common with each passing year.

    There is no requirement for a random person passing by to risk their life, but many are saved because someone does exactly that. Many would-be heroes also do not survive the attempt.

    It is not uncommon for firefighters to control people’s movements and remove them from the scene; that is part of their job, and they are best suited to make that judgement. But for police officers – who are not firefighters either – to arbitarily make that call while hiding behind regulations is simply asinine. The officers are no better judge of the risks of such an attempt than the neighbors were.

    And this –

    So, the woman, her husband and the hobo all died? Why didn’t the latter two jump out of the way of the train?

    What’s the moral of this story? If a woman dies, I have to die too? Sort of, inverse suttee?

    – furthermore illustrates my point. They didn’t jump because they decided it was worth the risk to make every attempt they could; they gambled, and lost. That fact that you think their decision was a poor one is irrelevant, aside from pointing out your own self-centered nature; the decision was theirs to make. If you cannot find the spark within you, then get the hell out of the way and make room for someone who can.

  • Laird

    Re Dennis’ post:

    “Unless I am persuasively convinced otherwise, I tend to defer to the tactical decision on the ground. It may even be wrong; tactical decisions often are. But unless it can be demonstrated to be culpable, there’s no fault to the cops.”

    I have no problem with this argument when the police are deciding whether to attempt a rescue themselves. It breaks down, however, when they assume to themselves the power to order others not to make the attempt. By what right? And it’s not a “tactical” decision anyway; it’s merely an assessment of risk*, and as someone has already pointed out their competence to make that assessment is no greater than anyone else’s.

    “Preventing more people from dieing, even against their wishes, is arguably a good thing.”

    I disagree. People must have the right to make their own choices. It is thinking like this which leads to the stultifying (and brainless) Precautionary Principle. It’s my life, and neither you nor anyone else has any moral right to tell me how to live it.

    * I was about to type “risk vs reward”, but I can’t see that any thought was given to the possible “reward”.

  • Laird: The reward here is your own self-esteem. Cowards re-live their cowardice every day of their lives.

    Dennis: Buzz off. It’s my body, I’ll do with it as I wish, provided I don’t initiate the use of force with it.

  • Sunfish

    A few observations:

    1) “The police said that health and safety regulations meant we couldn’t try to make our own rescue” sounds like a better excuse than “we thought we’d go in but the house was too far gone for an entry.” Except the latter could be very easily true.

    Fire departments have a saying: “We will risk a lot to save a lot. We will risk a little to save a little. We will risk nothing to save that which is already lost.” In the matter at hand, it could have been the police’ evaluation that the occupants’ lives were in effect already lost.[1] Which brings me to point…

    2) “It’s my life to piss away in whatever futile noble gesture I please.” And God bless you if you really would. But if you get hurt, then someone else will be on the hook to go in and drag you out. That’s a huge problem with lay rescuers trying to do rescues from fires and floods: sometimes they’re a help but all too often they become secondary victims instead. And alas, the emergency services don’t really get to say “he played a stupid game, so we should sit back and let him win a stupid prize rather than put our own people into danger.”

    3) “But firefighters in the US are often volunteers.” True. However, they may not have salaries but they do have training and protective equipment. The average VFF in the US holds the same certifications as the average paid firefighter, at least in my area. He’d ride up on the same giant red truck, wearing the same bunker gear and the same SCBA, etc.

    4) “It’s still my life to throw away.” Not going to dispute that. But I’d certainly ask that you not be so damn stupid as to throw it away in such a way as to make the situation even more of a damn mess than it already is.

    5) Did the IC say “Well, sir, elfansafety regulation 114.65 subchapter C says that only a firefighter (not fireman, since women may be firefighters as well, except in Muslim neighborhoods) may enter a burning building?” Or did he say “Are you fucking crazy?” The former makes for a better story if you want to make the British civil service look like process-oriented jellyfish, or you want to indulge in cheap cop-bashing and don’t have a “JBT shot my dog and wrote me for 33 in a 30″ story ready to go. But is it actually true? What makes this story any more true or credible than any of the other crap that gets published in the press?

    Out of curiosity: any actual firefighters here?

    I’m off to go and violate people’s human rights and prove that ACAB and Lovelle Is A Hero and Pigs are Coward. Back in a day or so.

    [1] As in, may not be dead yet, but a rescue before her death will not be possible and the attempt will accomplish nothing other than to endanger other rescuers.

  • Dennis

    Laird:

    not a “tactical” decision anyway; it’s merely an assessment of risk*

    That’s all a tactical decision is, a risk vs benefit analysis – or more likely a guess made with insufficient information. We can use your terminology if you wish, I’ll not quibble.

    I disagree. People must have the right to make their own choices. It is thinking like this which leads to the stultifying (and brainless) Precautionary Principle. It’s my life, and neither you nor anyone else has any moral right to tell me how to live it.

    It is their right and duty, if the way you live it puts others at risk. In this case, the firefighters would potentially have to risk their lives to rescue you. The option to not rescue you is not really open to the Fire Dept. Their duty to rescue you has made the fire ground immensely more dangerous.

    @Kristoher

    Dennis: Buzz off. It’s my body, I’ll do with it as I wish, provided I don’t initiate the use of force with it.

    If you are risking the lives of others, possibly even those you are attempting to rescue, then it is not your right. If you were arguing that you have a right to go climbing in a howling blizzard and they shouldn’t bother to rescue you, we’d be clinking glasses in agreement.

    If the situation was as implied by the news article, that the police were cowardly in not allowing a rescue attempt, I’d be in agreement. There are plenty of cases where police cowardice can be imputed (e.g. Columbine) I’m just not willing to conclude at this point that they behaved in a cowardly manner.

    @Sunfish:

    “The police said that health and safety regulations meant we couldn’t try to make our own rescue” sounds like a better excuse than “we thought we’d go in but the house was too far gone for an entry.” Except the latter could be very easily true.

    That may be the case. Or it may just have been sloppy speaking. Whether they’re heros or slime, they’re still bureaucrats and tend to talk like bureaucrats. I’d not want to be quoted, much less misquoted, on things I’ve said under stress. So, I wouldn’t hang my hat on the exact words that were said, particularly as (mis?)reported by the Drive By Media. As we can see, those words were certainly sufficient to light off a firestorm. ;-)

  • You make good points, Dennis.

  • Sunfish

    There are plenty of cases where police cowardice can be imputed (e.g. Columbine)

    If the editors want a long, long analysis of Columbine, I can do that. I have a passing familiarity with the subject. But it would be possibly the longest post in Samizdata history and not without their blessing. (If you’re going to attribute that particular football bat to ‘cowardice,’ I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re speaking from misinformation rather than trying to score points. But suffice it to say, a LACK of ‘militarization’[1] of law enforcement was a huge contributing factor)

    That may be the case. Or it may just have been sloppy speaking. Whether they’re heros or slime, they’re still bureaucrats and tend to talk like bureaucrats.

    Who’s a bureaucrat? And did the reporter even speak to the involved cops or only to the guy who alleges that the cops wouldn’t let him be the Hero of the Day?

    Unless UK police are radically different than US police, I’d be willing to bet that what the officer actually said sounded more like “Are you f***ing crazy? You’ll be dead before you find the f***ing stairs!”

    [1] Not my word, but the word of the people who think that cargo pockets on trousers and 1033-program weapons are proof of something sinister.

  • Dennis

    Unless UK police are radically different than US police, I’d be willing to bet that what the officer actually said sounded more like “Are you f***ing crazy? You’ll be dead before you find the f***ing stairs!”

    I’d bet a beer you’re right.

  • Etaoin Shrdlu

    I have the good fortune to be studying under one of the few scholars of rescue statistics. Although the class of his that I am in is unrelated, he has given one full lecture on the topic, and brought up bits and pieces in other discussions.

    As sad as it may seem, not everyone can be rescued, nor should rescuers try as often as they do. If the flames were leaping out of this building already, it was likely too late to save the family by sending people inside to drag them out.

    The family should have jumped from the windows; a broken leg is a small price to pay for getting out alive. If the windows were barred, well, at least here in the U.S. such security bars are supposed to be releasable so that people can exit in case of fire. As far as the pregnancy, a baby can usually survive a two-weeks premature birth.

  • Was there not a similar case involving a drowning in a pond a year or two ago?

  • Was there not a similar case involving a drowning in a pond a year or two ago where the security staff involved cited health and safety for not wading in to affect a rescue?

  • Lurker

    Re: Katrina

    Sure many people stayed behind libertarian style. However once trapped without food and resources many suddenly found themselves very much supporters of state intervention.