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ROUND TABLE: Remembering to ask: ‘How are the firefighters?’

The troublesome trio of heat, wind, and lighting activity looms over the mid-Columbia this week.

As is the case every summer in the West, wildfires are a potentially tragic reality for people everywhere.

And with the recent disastrous fire in Yarnell, Ariz., with its loss of the 19 hotshot firefighters, I would like to offer a few words to acknowledge the danger faced by the men and women who fight fires.

We certainly recognize that is the case, and offer our continued gratitude for those who go into harm’s way.

However, a reader last week expressed his unhappiness with the July 15 cartoon published on page A4 that connected the Yarnell Fire and global warming.

The reader was right to admonish us for publishing the cartoon, on the grounds that it politicized the loss of life. He felt it was disrespectful, and while no disrespect was intended, he had a point, and it is true that the choice was inappropriate.

Choosing the cartoons, from the Creative Syndicate service to which we subscribe, is up to me. The choice of the cartoon was mine. I had other cartoons to choose from for the July 15 edition. At the time, it seemed to me a worthwhile statement. Given the choice again, I would have passed on it.

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I like to think of myself as someone with refined appreciation of the risks to firefighters. In my early days as a reporter, with another community weekly, I was once called to task by the fire chief for never asking, after a fire, about the welfare of the volunteers. I would ask if residents of a home were injured, as a matter of course, but one day Jack said, “How come you never ask if any of the firemen got hurt?” (This was 1981, when it was firemen, not firefighters, as women were rare in the service, mainly because of policies of gender exclusion that, happily, did not survive much longer.)

Jack’s words stuck with me, and the question of “How are the firefighters?” is one that we strive to ask every time there is a fire.

The response received over the cartoon will help me remember this.

Again, there was no intent with the recent cartoon to dishonor the ultimate sacrifice the Yarnell firefighters made, nor the daily risk to their lives so bravely undertaken by firefighters everywhere.

This is a case of lesson learned, and thank you for calling us on it. The insensitivity is mine and should not reflect on my Hood River News associates.

I want to stress, too, that I realize the effect the cartoon could have on the feelings of the firefighters as well as their family members.

I will also speak personally with the reader who first drew this to my attention, and let him know that the message is received, understood, and appreciated.

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Kirby Neumann-Rea is Hood River News editor.

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