Our View | Remarkable Grace Under Fire

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“Captain… is awake. Vitals are a little low. Engineer is going to be DOA.”

That radio transmission came from Fire Station 81. Urgent, while remaining professional and purposeful. A man doing his job, under the most difficult circumstances: Two of his colleagues had been shot, one of them fatally. Immediately at the scene, they worked to treat the fire captain, and prepare him for transport to the hospital via a Fire Department helicopter that was readying to land right in front of the station on Sierra Highway.

The recording of that day’s radio dispatches and responses goes on to include the coordination and safe placement of resources as the shooter fled the firehouse, went to his home a few miles away, set it on fire, and turned the gun on himself. It wasn’t theater. It was real life, and a real life-and-death situation.

We don’t normally report on police and fire radio transmissions. They are intended for first responders to coordinate, to allocate resources, to dispatch units to the locations where they are most needed. And, of course, since they go out over public airwaves, they are not confirmed sources of news information. In the news business, radio scanner traffic is a means for us to allocate our own resources, learning where the breaking news scenes are so we can send reporters and photographers to the places where they, too, will do their jobs. 

But in listening back over a recording that was posted online of the radio traffic from Tuesday’s tragic shooting at Fire Station 81, we were struck by the outwardly calm and professional demeanor of everyone on the radio: The dispatcher, the first responders on the ground, the helicopter pilots — all were doing what they are called upon to do, every time a 911 call is made.

This time, though, the victims were their own brothers in service. That increases the degree of emotional difficulty in exponential fashion.

It’s a testament to the training and professionalism of the men and women who serve as first responders — paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, pilots, ambulance drivers and those voices on the other end of the call, the dispatchers — who must act with calm urgency when tragedy strikes.

Too often, and especially in today’s political environment, such things are taken for granted. If you listen to those recordings, and imagine yourself in their shoes — a friend or coworker has just been gunned down — how difficult would it be to remain composed and do those things that are necessary to try to save a life, catch a shooter, or rush to a burning building where you might not only face flames, but also gunfire?

It’s a lot to ask of anyone, and these professionals are expected to display grace under fire, every day. We appreciate them all, and we share in their hope for recovery of their wounded colleague, and in their grief over the loss of their fellow first responder, Firefighter Tory Carlon. May he rest in peace.

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