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Flashpoint: August 2011

In June, Chris Brennan, a reporter in Brantford, Ont., was prompted to write an editorial after noticing that the death of two miners in Sudbury on June 8 had not received adequate media coverage.

August 4, 2011
By Peter Sells

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In June, Chris Brennan, a reporter in Brantford, Ont., was prompted to write an editorial after noticing that the death of two miners in Sudbury on June 8 had not received adequate media coverage. Perhaps Brennan had a legitimate issue to put forward; however, the editorial went on to say: “Now just imagine if it had been two police officers or firefighters who had been killed. It would have been front-page news across the country.”

Brennan is correct in saying that line-of-duty deaths of firefighters or police officers are almost always the lead news story across Canada. As for the coverage of the Sudbury miners’ deaths, I was able to find, within seconds, articles not only from local media in Sudbury, but also from CTV, CBC, the Toronto Sun, the Montreal Gazette, the Hamilton Spectator, other newspapers across Canada, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. So what exactly was Brennan’s point? He continued: “So why is it when a logger or miner or fisher or farmer dies it rarely makes the news, but there’s a big hullabaloo when it’s a cop or firefighter?”

Workers in all fields deserve a safe, professional environment, and the death of any worker in any industry is a loss to Canadian society as a whole. If media coverage of a worker’s death is lacking, the fault lies with the media, not with emergency service personnel. If the families and colleagues of fallen workers in any industry choose to mourn publicly or privately, that is their right. There was no story of substance in Brennan’s editorial, only disparaging and divisive vitriol that deserves to be called out for what it is.

I think it was the word hullabaloo that turned the tide for me. My mind flashed back to riding in the front seat of the pumper carrying the casket of a good friend as we drove through the streets of the neighbourhood in which he died, and the men, women and children along the route who stopped and stood at attention. Some saluted; some took off their hats to cover their hearts; many were visibly in tears. Hullabaloo, indeed.

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Brennan attempted to bolster his position by calling into question the relative importance of firefighters and police officers versus the farmers, loggers, fishery workers and construction labourers on whom we depend for food and shelter.

“Funny thing is, on the grand scale of things, our foremost priorities are food and shelter. Without them we would literally starve or freeze to death.”

This argument is not worthy of a high school debating team, let alone a professional journalist. Such a misapplication of the hierarchy of needs would have Abraham Maslow turning in his grave. Imagine for a second that your house is on fire and you have taken shelter in an upstairs bedroom. When the firefighters reach you and are leading you to safety, do you: a) co-operate fully and get yourself out of immediate danger, or b) say “Wait, let me get the asparagus tips and tilapia fillets from the fridge first!”?

“Cops and firefighters are happy to propagate the myth, especially at contract time, that their jobs are exceedingly dangerous. It’s self-serving but disingenuous.”

That comment crossed all lines of respect and journalistic professionalism, and I defy Chris Brennan to provide any justification for what is essentially an insult to the integrity of those who bargain on our behalf.

“The massive funeral processions for fallen comrades is [sic] getting a little stale and self-indulgent.”

I didn’t do you the favour of correcting your grammar, Chris, because, frankly, how we mourn our fallen is none of your concern. I can assure you that the motives in play and the emotions being experienced as one stands honour guard, marches in a funeral procession or carries a casket are not as you described. Your description of our funerals as public spectacles that serve to highlight how relatively rare it is when one of us dies doing our job, do a disgusting disservice to the firefighters who die each year as a result of occupation-related cancers and other diseases. Many of those funerals are private and away from the public eye. You didn’t do your homework before writing your editorial. 

If not any journalistic skill, Brennan at least showed some courage of conviction in publishing his opinions. He noted that a particular uniform or occupation doesn’t entitle one to de facto hero status, and yet he did not make mention of the funerals or Highway of Heroes processions for our military members who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Can you imagine the reader backlash if Brennan had grouped soldiers in with firefighters and police officers, and labelled military mourners as self-serving or disingenuous?

I wonder if that was an oversight, or if Brennan’s courage or conviction had reached their limit.



Retired District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire-service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor. E-mail Peter at peter.nivonuvo@gmail.com


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