Retired Detroit firefighter: Not our job to hose demonstrators — even rioters

January 12, 2021, 2:00 PM

Dan McNamara was a Detroit firefighter from 1977 to 2014, retiring as battalion chief. From 2002-13, he was president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association.

By Dan McNamara

As a daily reader of Deadline Detroit and as a retired firefighter, I am always interested in “The Anonymous Cop” column. Observing police officers over the years inspired our respect and gratitude. No one can ever thank them enough.

In his most recent article, which helped us better understand why police performed as they did in the assault on the U.S. Capitol last week, the writer brought up firefighters. He suggested they might have helped repel rioters by spraying them with hoses, like firefighters did in the South during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 

After discussing the column with many active and retired firefighters, I’d like to flesh out our professional calling.

A firefighter’s professional duties are stated clearly and succinctly – save lives and protect property. How do we go about that? Like our brothers and sisters in blue, we usually aren’t called unless disasters happen. No matter how big or small, we always respond. 

Our duties go well beyond saving people from burning buildings. We are proficient at high-angle rescue, confined-space rescue, hazardous-material rescues and mitigation, automobile extrications, shipboard firefighting, icy and swift-water rescue as well as other highly technical and skilled operations. They are all designed to save lives. Each year we honor our comrades who have died or suffered serious injuries in these efforts.

Most firefighters are also medically trained. From basic medical responders to the highest levels of paramedics, we are on the front lines to help, save and assist. We’ll be with you from the disaster all the way to the hospital.

The point made by the “Anonymous Cop” about turning hoses on people, though, rankled everyone I spoke to. Regardless of the circumstances, firefighters never do that today. Decades ago, public officials might have been able to order firefighters to use the hoses as weapons in racist, politicized, inhumane and senseless events.

Thankfully, laws, respect and decency prevent that from happening today. I personally remember hearing ignorant people suggest using fire hoses as a possible tactic during the Detroit newspaper strike, but no one ever took the idea seriously.

I can assure Deadline Detroit readers that firefighters are dedicated to serving and, if needed, saving lives. This is our sworn oath and sacred belief. When you see a fire truck or ambulance racing by with lights flashing and sirens blaring, know that they are on the way to help, not hurt.


The Anonymous Cop: Capitol Police Were Right Not to Shoot During Insurrection, Jan. 8

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