Planes, fires and cold, hard facts

An interesting Los Angeles Times article Tuesday points to dual cold-hard facts of life. The story by the Times’ Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall, unearths the revelation that these big air tankers one sees on TV or in real life dumping water or retardant upon wildfires are sometimes used for political show.

The article tells how right-wing Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter was frustrated when his area near San Diego, Calif., was going up in flames. Hunter, who under the GOP control of the House chaired the Armed Services Committee and failed in an attempt this year to gain the GOP presidential nomination, tried to persuade a U.S. Forest Service official to bring in air tankers to fight the fire. However, the official pointed out, quite prudently, that the winds at the time were too high and visibility was too poor in which the tankers could safely operate.

Hunter suggested the forest service official to call, on a private phone number Hunter had, then-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers. When the forestry guy declined, Hunter called Myers and, of course, tankers were on the way. That points out the other cold, hard fact of life: Power produces action.

Never mind that putting air tanker crews up in the air costs out the wazoo and flying in bad conditions endangers more lives. Having those giant planes up trailing pink dust behind it looks good to constituents of those such as Duncan Hunter. Political show and political power all wrapped up in one.

If you take that argument over the hill and around the bend you might just find the dirty little secret that I discovered when I worked as a firefighter. Sometimes, the act of putting out a fire itself is the more significant act than actually extinguishing the fire. For instance, sometimes it is more advantageous because of insurance considerations to just let a house burn rather than stop the fire and have a heavily damaged home.

But taxpayers don’t pay taxes for firemen to stand around, smoking cigarettes (yes, I used to do that but am happily 8 years removed from the habit), drinking water and the s**t while a home burns into nothing. Those same taxpayers don’t provide those bright, pretty fire trucks just so firefighters can drive them with lights and sirens blazing.

So there we have some cold, hard truths. What is the real bone in the biscuit here is when people such as Rep. Hunter use their power without consideration of the danger involved. Despite the PR aspect of it all politicians need to listen to the experts who do their job day in and day out rather than order others around like little toy soldiers. Of course, that brings out a third cold, hard fact: Politicians behaving sensibly is about as rare as Halley’s Comet.

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