Does gallows humor from Camp fire cleanup crew merit firing?

A strange headline in the New York Post caught my eye this week, describing what at first sounds like yet another tale of terrible people doing terrible things. It deals with one of the clean-up crews hired to begin the dismal work of removing all the debris from the city of Paradise, California after it was destroyed in the Camp fire. Some of the workers were found to have made tasteless jokes about the remains of the city and posted them on social media. Three of the workers were fired.

Three construction company employees assigned to clean up the Camp Fire burn zone were fired — and face a criminal investigation — after one of them allegedly posted to social media a series of offensive photos showing themselves in the scorched Northern California area, the company announced.

The Bigge Crane and Rigging employees were fired following their “abhorrent” behavior cleaning up the town of Paradise, in Butte County, which was destroyed by the deadly Camp Fire.

A spokesperson for the Paradise Police Department confirmed to Fox News on Sunday that officials have opened a criminal investigation into the employees’ behavior, and were consulting with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.

There’s no question that some of this behavior was in bad taste. The workers weren’t actually vandalizing anything, stealing or breaking the law, but they were posing in inappropriate places and posting the pictures with insensitive jokes. One of them sat on a mailbox shaped like a firetruck while another pretended to be driving the burnt remains of someone’s RV.

The only reason I bring this story up is that I’m going to take what will likely be an unpopular position here. As I said, the jokes were tasteless, but I just don’t see this as a firing offense. In support of this idea, I’d ask you to consider the job these workers were undertaking. They’re cleaning up the remains of one of the most terrible, devastating fires in memory. They’re going through the ruined remains of people’s lives. There’s a very real possibility that in the course of their work they will come across the decaying remains of people’s pets or – God forbid – a human being who was unaccounted for.

This is some grim work. And professionals of all stripes who engage in such duties frequently release their tension through the mechanism of gallows humor. I had to dig a bit to find it, but this story reminded me of one I read in the Washington Post a few years ago. The title gives it all away. “Sometimes nurses make fun of their dying patients. And that’s okay.”

Doctors, nurses and others in the medical field make awful jokes at the expense of their patients all the time, though hopefully out of earshot. It’s a coping mechanism for the endless episodes of injury, pain, sickness, and death they encounter on a daily basis. From personal experience, I can tell you that the same frequently goes on with police and firefighters. Sometimes that’s just how you make it through the day.

These guys doing the cleanup at Paradise were, to be honest, rather idiotic to post their jokes on social media where they could be easily discovered. But most of us have moments of idiocy over the course of our lives. Does that mean that a group of blue-collar workers who were assigned to do something awful should lose their jobs and be turned into villains? I just don’t think so. An apology should have been enough and they should be returned to work.

David Strom 10:01 PM on September 26, 2022
David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022