The Incompetent Dead

Matthew Desmond

in On the Fireline

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2007 | ISBN: 9780226144085
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226144078 | DOI:
The Incompetent Dead

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The death of a firefighter poses a significant problem for the organizational common sense of the U.S. Forest Service because at first glance it seems to contradict its fundamental tenet: that fire is safe and controllable, that properly trained firefighters should never incur harm on the fireline. If the Forest Service strives to cultivate within firefighters an illusion of self-determinacy, how does the organization react when this illusion faces its biggest challenge, the death of a firefighter? What happens when the body of an experienced firefighter is “burned beyond recognition” and is brought before firefighters as evidence that the illusion of self-determinacy might be nothing more than a chimera? To address these questions, this chapter parses the organizational process through which the Forest Service manages death, first returning to that awful summer afternoon on Sawtooth Mountain with which the author began this book and describing the fallout surrounding Rick Lupe's burnover. It then broadens its analysis to the Forest Service's approach to all deaths. Finally, the chapter explores how firefighters themselves react to death, how their reactions are influenced by the common sense of the Forest Service, and how this affects their illusion of self-determinacy.

Keywords: firefighters; death; firefighting; Rick Lupe; Forest Service; self-determinacy

Chapter.  16468 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Occupations, Professions, and Work

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