Valley Springs volunteer fireman Steve Ackerman died fighting a house fire on April 12, 2015. Thousands of friends, firefighters, and well-wishers attended his funeral. Citizens created a memorial fund in Ackerman’s name for his fiancée and two children.
Two months after Ackerman was deemed a hero, investigators say that the fireman died with a blood alcohol content of of .189, more than twice the level at which he could have been charged with driving while intoxicated.
The online comments under KDLT’s story evince the outrage provoked when one punctures the popular mythos of uniformed heroism:
Dawn Renae Ackerman · Works at Hillside Consultants Inc.: KDLT you should be ashamed of yourselves! How does this information in any way, shape or form help the public?! This man died trying to save a life and should be remembered for his 14 year service to his community. You dishonor him as well as his entire family. I am astounded at your callous actions and this article should be retracted at once.
Conni Mayo: So him having a .189 made the floor collapse how? I would just like everyone to know right now…if my house is on fire please please help put it out. I don’t care if you have been drinking just help!
Ken Crystal Hatlewick: Why even bring this up?
Carol Lease: WHY,WHY,WHY?????? he was trying to save lives!
Mike Eisma · Unity Christian High School: The article is on more than just this website Ktiv and Kcau also have it on their website as well. Right, wrong, or otherwise the news is reported or should be reported on an unbiased basis. Volunteer fire fighters are just that volunteers. I did not know this man, he felt compelled to help, he didn’t know that sitting home that day or wherever he was going to “get the call”. I can assume that in most every small town that has a volunteer fire department, there just might be a fire fighter that has had a few beers grilling and chilling before they “got the call”. Remember the individual for who he was, the compelling need to help, and his 14 years of service and not the article itself.
Kim Otterness · Works at State of South Dakota: this information should have been completely left out of the report out of respect for his family and friends. Has nothing what so ever on what caused the fire! KDLT, you just lost me as viewer….
Kristy McManus: Yeah, media..he was drunk when he died..but “don’t forget that he has a grieving family”! Why weren’t those words said when my brother died??? You made sure to broadcast his death and BAC many times, but I never heard those words! It’s a tragic loss…for ALL! But apparently, because this life was lost in the line of duty, his past won’t be dug up nor will any flaws that he had…because I guess the flesh on his bones and the heart in his chest were better than my little brothers. My family was ATTACKED by the press, our name was drug down all because my brother made a mistake, all happening before we were even able to choose a casket for him! That statement just makes my blood boil!!! My heart goes out to the family of the firefighter and my sympathy is with them. I just want to know how one is better than the other…My brother had a job and a family to. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time writing this…media will do anything for a story.
linda Hasvold: I think this station has handle this new information the wrong way. Yes the news need to be out there but not every commercial of the show I was watching that was at least 4 time in an hour., He died doing a noble act, State the fact and leave it alone. It will only [hurt] your rating in my mind.
Paul Maurer: He is and will always be someone who lost his life in the line of duty. What better definition of a hero can there be? Let’s respect him for that fact.
Lanny Stricherz: “The president of the Minnehaha County Fire Chiefs Association said since Ackerman died in the line of duty, they’ve been dealing with his loss in their own ways, and that the release of the state fire marshal report is another step in that healing process.” I say horsepucky. The State fire marshall’s office and the Sioux Falls media is so irresponsible that it is incredible. The owner of the house died prior to the firefighters going into the house. The local media doesn’t ask the question of why the firefighters were then sent into a death trap. Instead they come out two months after the fact and besmirch the name of a hero, with a story that should have been kept out of the news. To what purpose????
To what purpose, friend of the blog Lanny Stricherz asks. To remind firefighters, and perhaps all South Dakotans, that when they have important work to do, they shouldn’t drink so darn much:
Volunteer firefighters in Tea have a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and are instructed not to respond to an emergency if they’ve had even one alcoholic drink.
…Tea Fire Chief Jeff Stahlecker… said, “If you have one, you’ve had one too many for our group.”
…Stahlecker and First Assistant Fire Chief Steven Oberle want to ensure Tea firefighters understand protocol when it comes to alcohol.
While Oberle is always eager to respond to calls he receives on his pager, he knows that if he’s had even just one drink at a local establishment or party, he can’t respond to that call.
…Oberle says [the news about Ackerman is] making him think even more about watching what he does out in public [Caiti Blase, “‘If You Have One, You’ve Had One Too Many’,” KDLT-TV, 2015.06.05].
The public outrage at the report that Ackerman showed up drunk to a fire echoes the local conversation that took place in September 2010 when Madison police arrested a firefighter for DUI as he drove a fire truck back to the station from a late-night call. We heard defensiveness and excuses from regular citizens and the Madison Volunteer Fire Department itself. We heard praise for firefighters capable of heroism paired with bitter blame-shifting against policemen who are equally capable of heroism. We heard confused calls of “Duty!” that ignored the duty of sobriety and self-control.
Ackerman risked his life to save property and lives. That spirit and action deserve admiration. At the same time, Ackerman drank more alcohol than is justifiable under any circumstance, then put his life and others’ at risk by reporting to a fire in an impaired state. That irresponsible behavior deserves attention and discouragement.
The press commits no foul in reporting a hero’s error. The press properly warns us to avoid such errors in judgment.