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In Hindsight

Playing With Fire

In August, fires large and small swept through homes around the world. And whether dousing flames, solving domestic disputes, or posing shirtless, firefighters were there.

This August the second-worst fire in California history raged in the Los Angeles area. In New York, a fire at the Deutsche Bank building next to the World Trade Center claimed the lives of two firefighters. (It turns out smoking by construction workers caused the fire, and bad planning by city and fire department officials made it a deadly fight.) Montana wildfires got so bad, firefighters from Manitoba were called in to help fight the blazes. Heat, dryness, and summer winds have fanned flames in Greece for the past five days. At least 64 people have already died, the blazes have stretched firefighters “to the limit,” and 21 countries sent in firefighters to assist in putting them out. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ political career may also over, as Greek citizens accuse the government of dropping the ball.

News of these infernos calls to mind the men and women who risk their lives fighting them. The civil servants who, unlike the Texas teens who were arrested this month for flooding their high school with a fire hose, causing $1 million of damage, know how to use the ax, hose, and spanner wench for good, rather than humiliating their mothers and ruining a perfectly good chance at a baseball scholarship.

This month we learned that 61 percent of Americans think firefighting has “very great prestige”—more prestige than any other job, to be exact. And not just prestige: The FDNY Fire Foundation’s pinup calendar boasted sales of $150,000 last year. Sadly, 2007 will be the calendar’s final edition. Once news got out that cover-boy Michael Biserta was in a Guys Gone Wild video, the fire commissioner put an end to the calendar. What gives—it takes some pretty serious prestige to strip down and take an on-camera shower.

Speaking of awkward, on August 17 it was reported that a house fire prevented two lusty German teenagers from losing their virginity. As anyone versed in fire safety can tell you, lit candles left unattended are as hazardous as they are romantic. Thankfully, no one was hurt—which is more than one can say for the Moscow husband whose wife tried to burn off his penis after he’d passed out drunk.

It just shows you can never trust firehouse management. One day they’re shutting down your calendar business, the next they’re making participation in gay pride parades compulsory. Couples proved even more taxing on firefighters on August 14, when a man pulled the cord on his lawnmower and lit his garage on fire. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except his wife then threw a can of gasoline on the blaze, and no amount of hosing and dousing could prevent their house from burning to the ground.

Putting out accidental fires arising from carelessness is but one part of a firefighter’s job description—they must also deal with arson, and sometimes arsonists’ bullets. This month Italian Mafioso are being accused not only of starting fires, but of shooting at firefighting helicopters to stop them from dropping water on the flames.

In Rugby, England, repeat arsonist Peter Phillips responded to being fired from his job by lighting a bonfire at the front door of his former boss’s house. It’s clear that in second grade, when they taught that a “homonym” is the same word with a different meaning, he was too busy playing with matches to pay attention.

Sometimes it’s your own boss who starts the fire: Some thought the Brooksville, Fla., fire chief had intentionally set a fire at City Hall and evacuated the building to prove a point. The true culprit turned out to be an overcooked bag of microwave popcorn—though no one’s saying whose.

It just shows you can never trust firehouse management. One day they’re shutting down your calendar business, the next they’re making participation in gay pride parades compulsory. But it could be worse for firemen and women: They could be required to wear Hello Kitty armbands every time they show up late to work.

Not that the job itself could get any more brutal. This month firefighters dragged six clawing, biting cats from a burning building, and pulled one scared kitty from the roof of a house following a three-day standoff.

So cut firefighters some slack. Avoid the example of one Kansas police chief and try not to steal their beer. Instead, take a lesson from the Sacramento couple that ran away while their grow-house went up in smoke. Dude—way to show these hardworking men and women a good time. It’s a tough job. They needed a break.


TMN Editor Nicole Pasulka believes she could beat a lie detector. When she sits in a chair she almost never puts her feet on the floor. Even though she likes the internet a lot, she is convinced that people will always read magazines and she is secretly building one in her basement. More by Nicole Pasulka