There are certain topics that generate an intensely emotional response from readers, but I just can’t understand the passion. This is definitely not one of those times.
I’ve heard from many voices who are extremely upset at the big headline on the story that filled most of Page 1A in the Sunday print edition: “Firefighters killed in alley shouldn’t have been there.” The story looked at questions about why the two men who died in an Oct. 12 arson fire were in the positions that left them vulnerable in the collapse of the building.
“It’s been just a short time since this tragedy occurred and relatives of these families of Mesh and Leggio had to pick up the paper and see the horrible huge headline on the front page,” wrote one emailer who made his points especially well. “Does anyone there realize the families of the firefighters killed are still grieving?”
I think the biggest reaction came from some people who hadn’t read the story (as many told me themselves). They considered the headline to be placing the blame on the two firefighters, who exhibited courage that I doubt most of us could even begin to imagine in our daily lives.
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And I absolutely understand that interpretation from reading the headline. But you could also read it in a more matter-of-fact way: Clearly, it was an accident with horrific consequences. Nobody would ever argue they should have been in the path of the building’s collapse. And the story does say directly that nobody knows why they were there at this time.
Other readers contested the whole point of the story: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health wrote “no building is worth a firefighter’s life,” in reference to a previous, similar situation. But those readers think The Star shouldn’t have reported on this aspect at all until NIOSH and the fire department have completed their own investigations of this incident.
Journalists would disagree with that, as it’s their job to pose difficult questions to public officials and others in power. But again — I understand the critics’ point of view, especially considering how emotional the whole situation remains just weeks later.