Alameda Syndrome

A man is drowning. Alameda, California firefighters stand on the beach, watching as the man struggles in the waves. The firefighters want to save him, but department policy prohibits firefighters attempting rescues for which they are not trained. The firefighters stand still and the man eventually drowns.

Reports say the firefighters wanted to save the man and that they were frustrated on the beach. But they didn’t save him. They deferred to authority and bureaucracy, shrugging off moral conflicts with the excuse that, “I’m just doing my job… Just following orders”.

I feel sorry for those firefighters who will likely regret their moment of inaction for the rest of their lives. “If only” will be bitter in their mouths. They’ll replay that day over and over in their minds, awake and asleep, vowing never again to do the same, but knowing they’ll never be able to save the drowning man.

I pray that I’ll never feel so bound by any policy that I’m rendered incapable of taking life-saving action. That includes saving my own lifeas well as the lives of others. The problem is that one never really knows his true philosophy until faced with the situation. Action can be planned and promised, but it’s only proven when one actually takes action. Plans and promises show the best of intentions, but only doing will show the best of characters.

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