It was just before 1:00 am early one Friday when Atlanta firefighters were called to the home of 94-year-old Sally Skrine. She was well-known in the community as a generous woman who was always willing to give out food to anyone who needed it.
It took just seven minutes to get to her house after the call came in, but the fire was already raging by the time they arrived.
Firefighters found burglar bars on every door and window of Skrine’s home making it a challenge to get in. But they believed a person was trapped inside.
Twenty-year veteran Capt. Danny Dwyer was already wearing his protective gear when Chief Sean Johnson ordered Dwyer and his truck mates to do a search inside the burning house.
Dwyer knew every second mattered.
Instead of waiting for his two truck mates to finish suiting up, Dwyer crawled inside with two firefighters from a different fire engine who were manning a hose.
Amidst toxic, churning smoke, Dwyer found Skrine on the dining room floor. In an instant, the interior of the home was completely engulfed in flames. Dwyer leaned over her unconscious body to protect her and then managed to tug her out the door onto the porch.
But it was too late. Sally Skrine succumbed at the scene.
Most of us would see Capt. Dwyer as a hero, risking his own life to try and save Sally Skrine’s. Incredibly, that’s not what his bosses thought.
After the incident, Dwyer was written up by superiors for not waiting for the rest of his crew before going in. It’s called “freelancing.”
And that is not allowed.
Instead of receiving a medal, Dwyer will spend two shifts at home without pay. And will have this infraction noted on his permanent record.
How is it that what appears to be selfless service is frowned upon?
As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports it, Department rules state Superiors “must look at all incidents from a perspective of risk vs. benefit. Always placing the safety of our members as the highest priority.”
Several firefighters spoke to the AJC about an increasingly “risk-averse culture,” often mandated by chiefs safely tucked away in offices.
Sound familiar? Firefighters often need to make life or death decisions in an instant, literally in the heat of the moment.
Just like our warfighters.
When the adrenaline is pumping, and seconds count, it doesn’t seem like firefighters should be considering the career ramifications of trying to save people trapped inside a raging inferno.
After all, if firefighters ever get called out to your gran’s house at one in the morning, what do you want them to be thinking about?