Taking my cue from the public information office of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I’m announcing in a press release that I saved ten hikers, two lost puppies and a cute cat in Eaton Canyon Saturday – all before I had breakfast.
Before those sleepy Pasadena firefighters started flipping their morning pancakes, I had helicoptered solo, rappelled tall mountains, composed a concerto, and scooped up those (almost) lost souls to save another day. Being a press release hero is tough business, I tell you.
I began this hero stuff after learning from the county that I don’t have to actually do it to get credit for it.
Last week, the sheriff’s department issued a press release about hikers who were injured in Eaton Canyon. According to the press release, one severely injured woman was rescued by the Altadena Search and Rescue team and then airlifted to a local hospital by a county Fire Department helicopter. County fire paramedics treated another injured hiker.
Except, that wasn’t what happened.
Pasadena city firefighters hiked into the canyon with the search and rescue team and hiked out with the severely injured victim, who was taken in a city ambulance to the hospital. Since the accident occurred after dark, county fire officials declined to use its helicopter.
Emails from a Pasadena firefighter surfaced in this paper detailing the rescue. After a condescending county spokesman responded by refusing to get involved in a spat with a `smaller agency,’ county Supervisor Michael Antonovich ordered an investigation into the differing accounts.
In a move that might have caused severe whiplash, the now-enlightened spokesman later noted the press release “misstated some facts. He apologized for the “errors” and said that county Sheriff Lee Baca intends to conduct an “examination” of department policies. (As if the beleaguered sheriff needs another controversy in his life.) Antonovich’s spokesman said there was no “intent to misinform.”
Well, maybe. And maybe not.
The emails from the Pasadena fire captain that first pointed out the truth also said that it wasn’t the first time. Pasadena city fire spokeswoman Lisa Derderian told reporter Brian Charles that “in the past, they have taken credit” and made it look like they did things single-handedly.
The root of the problem may be a scarcity of resources, reported the paper. In an age where government funding is declining, cornering all the credit and the public acclaim that comes with it bolsters a department’s next funding request.
This is not a dig at any first responders, fire or police, most of whom do an admirable job under usually dangerous conditions. But sometimes it’s just easier taking the credit. Who is going to complain, and who’s going to listen?
I remember a few years ago, a plane had crashed in Upland. A California Highway Patrol report highlighted its quick response to the crash and praised its officers in helping to rescue three passengers. There was no record of any civilian helping. But a civilian had helped and was on the scene first.
An Upland firefighter called me to make sure I knew that a civilian potentially saved these people while putting himself in great harm. I wrote the story. Firefighters. Always trying to make sure the right people get the credit.