Friday Fiction – First Responders

Well, a week on and I’m barely halfway through last week’s stories. I’m sorry to those I didn’t reach; to those I did, I really enjoyed seeing the variety and quality of stories inspired by my snapshot between the corn cars.

This week’s photo comes from Roger Bultot. I have taken to heart Rochelle’s comment about inspiration rather than illustration and gone at least hundreds (possible thousands) of miles away with my story. An explanation follows for those with time and interest, but is intended to be unnecessary if you just want to read the fiction and move on. Comments and critique are always welcome.


First Responders

The throb of helicopter blades promised salvation: an answer to all our prayers.

They disembarked with bottled water and healthy-looking sandwiches. They brought tents to keep out the weather, warm blankets and waterproof jackets. They gave candy to the kids and asked us to pose for photographs in front of our devastated homes, roads and schools.

They talked of international aid, of the sympathy the pictures would bring: sympathy, cold hard cash and ultimately help. And then they left, taking everything but some empty bottles and a discarded Subway menu.

And we waited again for salvation to come from above.




I know there are journalistic reasons not to interfere – I’ve heard all the arguments that their job is to record not intervene and I get that as far as it goes, but the humanity in me doesn’t. Whenever I see pictures and video taken from disaster sites, I wonder how someone could swoop in (presumably with plenty of provisions for their own safety and comfort), record the scene, and then swoop out again back to the comfort of their own homes and countries.

I appreciate the irony of my stance – from the safety and comfort of my own armchair I endeavour help by donating exactly because some journalist has been out to the afflicted area and shown me the devastation – but I still wonder whether those early helicopters wouldn’t be more usefully filled with supplies than camera equipment.

Roger’s photo is obviously of a different breed. I have similar thoughts sometimes about photographs of more minor disasters but I also acknowledge that in most cases it is absolutely the right thing for witnesses to stay away and let the professionals do their jobs. No criticism of Roger is implied in my story inspired by his photograph.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

46 responses to “Friday Fiction – First Responders

  1. Dear Jen,
    IMO, the story fits the photo even without the extroduction. However, it’s lovely to read your thoughts. This is a tough conundrum. I’ve worked with a few rehabilitation efforts, but I’ve never felt that we left without providing some substantive provisions or help for the future. We have, however, easily returned to our much more comfortable lives. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

    All my best,
    Marie Gail

    • In case it wasn’t clear, Marie Gail, the journalists in my story only brought enough supplies for their own use during the visit. I have no beef (only admiration) for anyone who goes to places like this as part of a genuine relief effort. Of course such people return to their own homes too, but they do so after leaving real assistance and making a difference.

      • I had missed that these were journalists. 🙂 I have a twin-in-law who used to be a journalist, and, frankly, I wouldn’t put it past her to do something like this–even though she has switched careers and become a social worker (letters after one’s name does not a humanitarian make).

  2. gahlearner

    This is a great take on the prompt, very thought-provoking. 🙂
    I have similar feelings, we need to know what’s going on to feel empathy, at the same time, resources are blocked by journalists. A dilemma…

  3. I agree. The photo prompt made me think of disaster relief in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It’s strange how the photo prompts stimulate memories.
    Be well,

  4. Jen

    It’s obvious that you put much thought into your story. I always enjoy your Friday Fictioneer entries, but this one was especially thought provoking & I appreciate that.

  5. The story was great. I’m sure that there are great journalists out there risking life and limb to bring us the true story……for at their heart they are all storytellers just like us. For those who are using disasters to profit…It cant be called journalism.

  6. I always love a story with a good message.. this is one of those that are not very far from the photo at all IMHO. I think it is even worse when the reporters not only refrain from helping which can be justified, but cases when they actually block the help from reaching the ones in need.

  7. I’ve just read the autobiographies of a couple of front line journalists (Kate Adie and John Simpson) and this is something they seem to struggle with. Nicely portrayed.

    • Ooh, I bet those were fascinating. I think with war correspondents it’s a little different again. Sure, there are people suffering who would welcome assistance, but the real help has to come from stopping the war, and in that regard press coverage can definitely have real value.

  8. much as i regret to say it, they can’t do it all. at the same time, we should expect that they do what they do best and that is to tell the story.

  9. Liked your story.
    The adjustment after any devastation is overwhelming.
    The initial help is a Godsend, but the aftereffects when “normal” life settles in and the shock wears off is another kind of devasting experience.

    • The layers of devastation are incredible; I’ve read articles about the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia and what happened after the international aid ended, and there is so much left to do…

  10. Your story put its finger exactly on a problem with our frantic, news story du jour sort of culture. We love to help people but it often takes way more time than people feel like giving, which is why some people are still homeless from Hurricane Sandy and others are still rebuilding from Katrina.

  11. micklively

    Ah Jen, don’t confuse care with PR.
    Excellent piece.

  12. Terrific piece. I didn’t immediately get, without reading the comments, that the stuff they brought was for their own personal use. I’m not sure how to make that clearer without killing the ‘impersonal’ nature of the narrative, which in itself reads very much like a journalistic account. Excellent.

    • Hmm… I tried to drop clues in but it seems quite a few didn’t get it from the story, or even the extroduction. I had put more about the tents etc “looking like they kept out the weather”, but a lot of that ended up on the cutting room floor. Hmm…

  13. Dear Jennifer,

    I got ‘journalists’ from the get go. You described the vultures well. They live because other people die and those that survive love to be reminded that it is not yet their day.

    Great story, with or without the Extroduction.



  14. Dear Jen,

    I needed no explanation at the end. Your story is magnificent and well crafted from beginning to disturbing end. We never hear the other side of what happens when the dust settles and disaster victims are left on their own. Sounds like the universal media. Again, well done. Applause!



  15. This fiction has some truth in it though everyone may not be like them. Very thought provoking story and your views also. Very nicely written in just 100 words.

  16. Disasters, major or minor, bring out the media, and with everyone taking videos these days we can’t escape the tiniest mishap. Yesterday I saw a clip of a guardsman outside Buckingham Palace slipping over – they ran it three times before I could switch off.

    • Urgh, poor guy. I’ve never seen the appeal of You’ve Been Framed type video shows and now we have internet and camera phones to increase the supply, it’s just getting worse.

  17. I understand your sentiment but can see both sides of this argument, even though I think there is too much media these days. Besides that your story was a sad but enjoyable read.

  18. Great thought-provoking story!

  19. This is unique and thought-provoking. I agree, emergency supplies should be first and foremost in these disaster situations.

  20. Good story and justified explanation, Jennifer. I don’t think I could just stand by without helping. We had a case here where a huge earthquake hit and the people started doing what they could to help themselves because of past experience with the governments, local, state, and national, which had done little or nothing in the past. Even goods left at the airport for later distribution to those affected were stolen and sold on the balck market. It can be truly disgusting. — Suzanne

  21. Great story. I often wonder why the reporters don’t turn and just feed everyone in sight when they’re in a camp where everyone is starving. Or at least do something. Many questions whenever there’s a tragedy. Well-done!

  22. a thought-provoking story well told. I liked the last line in particular

  23. Dale

    It always amazes me how the media always seems to make it to a scene of horror before the aid does… makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

    I could never do it! Will be asking my neighbour how she feels about it!! (as a newly minted reporter…)

  24. You raise a good point. It is easier to record trauma than to heal it I guess. Less personal commitment.

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