There’s no question that we owe first responders our gratitude for the risks they take on our behalf. But not all are as heroic as 30-year-old Christopher Ryan Morton, the Clinton police officer who was shot and killed this week. Morton, may he rest in peace, had served in the Army National Guard in Afghanistan and had returned to the Clinton Police Department “for his brothers,” because he felt needed there after another Clinton officer was killed last August.
Like other humans, though, cops and firefighters and EMTs sometimes fall short. And a certain number fall even shorter.
Some, like those Wyandotte County firefighters who ran their lights and sirens outside former Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland’s home, waking him and his neighbors, are embarrassments to their profession.
And others, like the Kansas City firefighter who allegedly spat on a 3-year-old and called him the n-word in a public tirade in an Overland Park Hooters, should not, if the charges are proven, be on the public payroll at all.
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The firefighter, Terrence Jeremy Skeen, who is 42, was charged in Overland Park Municipal Court with battery, assault and disorderly conduct. The case was also referred to the FBI.
Since he’s a 15-year veteran of the department — 16, if you count the year he took off for personal reasons — it seems fair to ask how behavior that extreme went undetected until the sight of a kid acting like a kid allegedly set him off on a racist rant, and made him literally mad enough to spit.
“He basically said, “Get that little [n-word] up off the floor,’” a witness told KCTV5.
In a statement, Overland Park said there were multiple witnesses.
The head of the firefighters union said the charges were hard to square with what he knew of Skeen, who once posted this message of tolerance on his Facebook page: “When you make inappropriate comments about someone’s race, religions, sexual orientation, or beliefs (joking or not), you get removed from my friends list. Yes, you are entitled to your opinions....I just don’t care to hear them!”
Reached by The Star on Thursday, Kansas City Fire Department spokesman James Garrett said the department will “wait for adjudication” on April 3 before deciding how to respond.
Again, if this did happen as described, there is no excuse. And how would someone who’d demean a child that way, while off duty, treat the public on our time and on our behalf?
Basic respect and equanimity under pressure would seem to be as crucial to a firefighter as the guts it takes to run toward flames.
They aren’t cartoon superheroes, after all, but men and women whose jobs are so stressful that they are at risk for PTSD and suicide.
Almost half of more than 1,000 firefighters in a Florida State University survey said they had suicidal thoughts at some point, and more than 15 percent reported that they had tried to kill themselves.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that looked at suicide by occupation found the highest rates for women among those working as firefighters and police officers.
Instead of idolizing them, let’s recognize the risks they face and make sure they get the support they need before other first responders are called on them.