Editorial: Arsonist burns firefighter reputations
It doesn’t take much for a reputation to go up in smoke.
It happens all the time. A respected person — a community leader or a valued professional — couldn’t possibly be responsible for a crime. Until it happens.
Generally, it’s the kind of thing that hits only that person’s public perception. Larry Nassar hasn’t damaged the reputation of everyone in gymnastics. Bill Cosby hasn’t made all comic actors pariahs.
But sometimes the job and the crime seem like they can’t be separated. That ends up burning down the reputations of everyone who does that work.
Take the Catholic church. The naming of those priests in the Pennsylvania grand jury report staggered the imagination and encouraged distrust in other men of the cloth. It shouldn’t. There were far more priests who weren’t named than those who were.
But they aren’t the only ones. The Jerry Sandusky case could make it hard to believe that anyone helped kids without an ulterior motive, although it happens every day. A video of a police shooting doesn’t just question the actions of one officer. It plants seeds of doubt about all of them, regardless of record.
And then there are the firefighters.
On Monday, Ryan Laubham, 19, pleaded guilty in Allegheny County Court. He told the judge that he set two fires because he was bored.
The obvious victims here are the Munhall homeowners whose porches were torched.
But there are the victims who can’t just tear down the rubble and grab fresh lumber to start over. The ones who can’t be compensated by insurance. The ones who are left with a smoldering ruin that will smoke long after anyone has forgotten who Laubham is.
They are the other volunteer firefighters.
These are people who do things our bodies beg us not to do, things that all of our senses rebel against. They hunt under beds for hiding kids while fire swirls around them. They climb stairs knowing they could be cinders before they can get out. They risk their lives not only to save people, but to save property.
They were betrayed by one of their own. Laubham volunteered with Munhall’s No. 4 fire company.
It has happened before. Other firefighters, other departments. It’s a recognized problem that the National Volunteer Fire Council puts at about 100 per year.
But it is important to remember that the good guys outnumber the bad ones. It’s important because otherwise, the good guys could stop stepping forward.
It only takes one person to light a match that can burn down a building. It takes a lot more than that, working hard and working together, to put out the fire.