Editorial: Arsonist burns firefighter reputations | TribLIVE.com

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.

Categories: Opinion | Editorials
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.