Ethics Quiz: The Deer On The Ice

“The Wisconis State Journal reports,

“Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow… said he would fire the [Department of Natural Rresouces] warden tomorrow if he could for ‘being complicit in putting firefighters at risk, over a stupid deer.’

‘This is a complete embarrassment and a joke,’ tweeted Jarchow…. The DNR posted a glowing statement about the incident on its website Tuesday. The release praised Warden Jesse Ashton for organizing a team of wardens and local firefighters to rescue the deer [The deer had wandered 500 yards out onto the frozen lake], saying, ‘Those little hooves are no match for slick surfaces!… Teamwork strikes again!'”

You can imagine the calumny being heaped on this monster’s head by animal lovers on social media.

But is he right? (Jarchow is himself a volunteer firefighter.)

Your Ethics Alarms Thanksgiving Weekend Ethics Quiz Of The Day is….

Should firefighters be used to rescue animals in peril?


Pointer: Ann Althouse

27 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Deer On The Ice

  1. Depends. I don’t have enough information to make a call.

    There is a spectrum. Running into a burning building to save a pet dog is a no. A couple of firefighters stopping traffic to get a duck and her ducklings of a median in a semi busy street is ok if it takes less than a few minutes at low risk.

    In this case I don’t know if there was a risk of the ice breaking. Based on the description it appears the danger to the deer was slipping, not drowning, but I don’t trust frozen ice based on the minor experience of an uncomfortable pair of wet shoes.

  2. Yes. These departments have the equipment to mitigate exposure risk. It can be argued that saving a deer is real life training exercise. What if that deer had been a three year old child and the team had never practiced such a rescue and the child is lost due to mistakes made by rescuers? Then again if we are simply evaluating cost benefit, does the life of a three year old outweigh the potential loss if multiple rescuers die trying to save the child. We must think of the families of the dead heros too.

    If you decide the risk is too great then the same decision should be made for a human being in the same circumstances. Imagine what would be said if the decision not to combat the California Camp wildfire was based on risk aversion for simple property protection. None of these firefighters were rescuing people they were containing the fire to prevent financial loss of homes and businesses.

    • I’ll go with the training possibilities, too. The Yes, Prime Minister episode, “One of Us,” dealt with some of these issues as the government worked through the consequences of rescuing a sheepdog who had wandered onto an Army artillery range.

      • “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” are two of the cleverest British political satires ever, on radio or television. And the only ones I’ve ever known of that rip the clothes off the “Civil Service” as well. Thanks for the reminder, Lo.

  3. While all of us would love to help the animals endangered by the fires, the situation calls for priorities. If the animal can be saved without endangering human lives, any human lives then save the animal. But if it is the humans life is clearly at risk, sorry it’s roast venison. Now our fire fighters already risk their lives trying to save people. This is what they signed on for. If peta wants to find voulenteers to save animals from the fire then that would be what they signed on for! But if the voulenteers have not made a commitment to save animals it is not anyone’s place to expect them too! To do so is not practical when we are already losing human lives in this mess! Humans first!

  4. Wow.. is this ever an awesome Ethics Quiz!

    Let me start by noting that in my college days, when I was working part-time as an EMT in the streets of Boston, the fifth or sixth call I went on was in the projects. We found the apartment and I stepped up to the door and the crew chief yanked me by my collar as I was about to knock on the door. Damn near threw me to the end of the hall.

    “NEVER stand in front of the door when you knock in this neighborhood,” he hissed. “Stand outside the door frame and knock by reaching over. Guys here have gotten killed by shots through the door. Not everyone in this neighborhood is a bad dude, but a lot are. If they think there might be cops, they’ll shoot first and then come out shooting.”

    Fast forward to my 35+ years in northern New England, where the deer and the antelo… well, not the antelope, but the deer and the moose and the black bear and the fisher and all manner of other critters don’t exactly play, but do what they can to survive.

    These are wild animals. They are wonderful and magnificent and gorgeous to see. And they live and die by the rules of nature (and, in the autumn, the occasional round from a rifle, compound bow, shotgun or muzzle loader).
    Nature and evolution guide their actions, for good or ill. Deer fall through the ice – sad, and ugly, but natural. So do fox, coyotes and other creatures. We humans admire these animals, and their beauty, but that doesn’t mean we should be stupid about it. They lived here before we got here. They may be here after we’re gone.

    Fact is, ice rescue – be it for human or critter – is a technical skill that requires both training and the proper equipment. And there IS equipment for this kind of rescue. A basic boat isn’t the proper gear. Ice rescue requires immersion suits and multihull flotation sleds designed for the purpose. And training to use all that gear. If the fire department in question didn’t have both (and it sounds like it didn’t) it would be a great idea for it to leverage the sad story and run a barbecue or bean supper to raise the money to get it. My bet is that it would be a success.

    But you shouldn’t attempt this type of rescue until you have the toys and skills.

    For an elected official to demand that firefighters – let alone VOLUNTEER firefighters – to put their own lives at risk to save a creature that might or might not survive without intervention? That would be gross negligence and vile virtue signalling worthy of unelection. The same goes for a bureaucratic agency that is UNELECTED, as was the case here.

    And it was stupid of the firefighters to agree. First rule in first response: unless you’re a cop, you do NOT enter a scene until it’s secure (the cops get the short end of the stick on this one). I find this story especially galling because ultimately, the payoff for the agency was a nice Facebook post. Yay! Bureaucrats get a win.

    So they’re heroes in the minds of people whose knowledge of deer is limited to watching Bambi and the occasional glimpse out a car window. One wonders what folks would have thought if it were known that two or three firefighters who weren’t trained or equipped for ice rescue had broken through the ice and enjoyed their own wakes as Popsicles.

    Bottom line: Jarchow was absolute correct. That nobody was killed during this fool’s errand was nothing more than moral luck. It was irresponsible of the agency to request the attempt, and it was stupid for the ill-equipped fire department to attempt it.

    • Obviously you have more information regarding the incident than I. However, lets say I see the deer and organize a group of people as volunteers does that change the dynamic? My understanding was that this was a volunteer effort using people with training and equipment. I find it difficult to believe that in Wisconsin emergency personnel have no exposure suits or other rescue gear. If they dont we should be demanding answers as to why the hell not. Perhaps the congressman wants to answer that.

      You know just like bears, deer, foxes etc human beings do all sorts of dumbass things that needlessly expose rescuers to danger. The big difference is people should know better and be held to a higher standard. How do we justify risking personnel to rescue idiots from their own behaviors.

      Using Darwinian ethics we apply to wildlife these people should be left to die as a result of the foolishness of their risktaking. When people decide to dunk their frozen turkey into the hot fryer on a wooden deck that should be their ill fortune – no one should come to their rescue..

      Humans have been around nearly as long as the deer, bears and foxes and will probably outlast wildlife because we are smarter than they are and all creatures other than me an thee are expendable for we are more important. Perhaps we should recuse ourselves from valuations of life and death given our inherent conflict of interest.

      Why do we put at risk volunteer firefighters to save unoccupied homes. Let them burn down so no one is forced to put themselves at risk. Using the logic of the congressman California firefighters should only be helping people escape wildfires and not try to protect property, habitat and wildlife by working contain an extinguish the fires.

      • Could it be that Jarchow who is reportedly an “outspoken critic” of the DNR might be exploiting this politically?

        Nothing in the report suggests that a lack of training or gear was an issue.

        I understand the fire chiefs initial refusal but it appeared from the report that refusal was due to a lack of a boat which was provided by a different fire company. Again, nothing in the newspaper account suggest anyone was harassed into compliance. I believe Alex summed it up best when he said insufficient information. We have no idea regarding the technical capacity of the volunteers, we have no info on ice thickness, and we have no information as to the whether any volunteer felt coerced.

        Finally, who trained the trainers of rescue personnel. Standard techniques and practices had to originate from experimentation and improvisation. Training mitigates risk it never eliminates it. Common sense is the foundation of all skill sets.

  5. Those deer are pretty much all domestic terrorists anyway. I mean in the Middle East you have people who blow themselves up in order to kill others. Here you have sadistic deer who throw themselves in front of a speeding auto in an effort to kill a family trying to get to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. These wardens should probably be charged for aiding and abetting.

    But seriously, I’d agree with Arthur. If the DNR wasn’t equipped for such a rescue, improvising to save a deer is not the thing to do.

    • My gut reaction was to agree with you, but I hadn’t thought of the training angle before others mentioned it. If that were a child on the ice, would anyone accept “they didn’t have the right equipment, so they stood by and watched the kid die from exposure” as the right course of action? Or would we expect some improvisation to get the job done, rather than wait for the right gear, however long that might take?

      Assuming these guys didn’t put themselves at extreme risk, this was probably a valuable learning exercise. They know now what they can do with what they have, and probably learned a lot about what sort of gear they should try to obtain for future rescues of victims who may be higher on the food chain, when just walking away isn’t an option. It sort of depends on the level of danger involved, I’d say. Inch-thick ice vs. six inches are two wholly different scenarios.

  6. I’ll be less eloquent than Arthur: note the name of the profession; ‘Firefighters. The Game Wardens can do whatever they feel like. San Antonio, Texas has a novel approach; they’ll come get your air-head kitten out of the tree, then send you a bill for time & equipment used.

    • Dragin, what group does swift water rescues or handle extricating people from mangled autos or search and rescue after tornadoes in Texas? Where I live fire fighting is but one aspect, albeit primary, of their responsibilities. When a call for comes in for an ambulance based on expected heart attack the first responder is the FD in my area. Perhaps that colors my opinion.

      • Chris, it varies by jurisdiction. Sometimes it’s Fire Department (more accurately called Fire and Rescue in some areas). I’ve worked in areas in which swiftwater rescue is actually the province on the Sheriff’s Office. There are others in which swiftwater (and other special disciplines, such as Search and Rescue and high-angle rescue) are actually handled by volunteer organizations that are offshoots of whitewater or mountaineering clubs; these groups do the heavy lifting but do so under the auspices of either fire and rescue or law enforcement, depending on jurisdiction.

          • In Bexar County, it’s Sheriffs Office, BUT each Emergency Services District also has a Rescue Squad. Strangely enough, ESD 6, where I live, will respond to ANY 9-11 call, with the Squad and, for some reason, a pumper truck and the Battalion Chief, along with the ambulance. But, if your air-head kitten goes up a tree, you’ll get the Rescue Squad…and a bill for services rendered.

  7. Putting human lives at risk for a wild animal is an exercise in risk evaluation.

    (Full Disclosure: I have already killed two bucks this season, and have viewed deer as a primary food source all my life. They are beautiful animals, and quite tasty fried up with my mom’s crispy crust recipe!)

    Doing it just for a Facebook story is wrong. Not doing it out of hand is not wrong, but hard to own up to. Which leaves us with a pro and con risk assessment.

    This was not an emergency. If the animal hurt itself while the debate is ongoing, then so be it. Note that in Texas LEOs put down injured and sick deer all the time.

    My general answer is ‘let nature take its course.’ Training is for controlled situations, not one-off ‘we have a chance to use our nifty toys’ situations.

  8. Training is for controlled situations, not one-off ‘we have a chance to use our nifty toys’ situations. I’ll take that and go you one step further: All training should be in controlled situations. In fact, there are very few situations (apocalyptic?) that can’t be set up for training purposes, from virtual reality (how to train fighter pilots and try out the safety of new airplane designs) to finding — in Wisconsin in winter, certainly — or building anywhere a replica of an iced-over pond, to a precise range of thickness or ways to test various kinds of rescue operations under different conditions. Unless the deer rescuers had some sure knowledge of what they were doing with minimum risk, which they probably did, they had no business risking their lives or even their equipment on a deer … especially not, I have to say with a dash of whimsy, in deer hunting season.

    Going even further, I would guess that ice-rescue training was already in place for live-saving personnel (possibly including firefighters) in those geographical areas that had such climates as might endanger men, women, children and even productive animals, i.e. errant dairy cows . . . and even deer, especially if the press were watching. … I doubt we have the whole story here. As usual.

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