Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More Words on Fire

It seems that in this age of “gotta have it now” news coverage, there isn’t time for reporters to do even minimal fact-checking or spell-checking. Yes, I know, you are shocked and surprised to hear this.

I am continually surprised – but not so much shocked anymore – by the typos that continue to crop up in local media. Sometimes they just make my head hurt from shaking it back and forth in disbelief, or thunking it on my desk.

From a Denver Post reporter who, IMHO, wrote some of the best stories about the Waldo Canyon Fire comes this report about a recent arson at an apartment complex:

“Fire investigators are . . . looking into reports of a man with a can of gasoline spreading the excellerant down a hallway of the burned building.”

That should be “accelerant,” as in a flammable liquid used to accelerate the spread of a fire.  “Excellerant” isn’t even a word as far as I know. Even my computer redlined it. Maybe it’s derived from a spell in the Harry Potter series: Excelleranto!

Then there’s this description of a traffic accident that was posted on the web site of a local news station:

“Officials say the truck from Engine 9 was enoroute to a call with lights and sirens active, when they were hit.”

Three mistakes in one sentence (four if you count the unnecessary comma) – and the rest of the article isn’t much better.

We’ll start with Fire Department Nomenclature 101. “Fire truck” is a generic term frequently used by the public when referring to vehicles such as fire engines (also called pumpers) and ladder trucks. Considering that many people outside of the fire service simply don't know the differences, I generally don't get my knickers in a twist when people say “fire trucks.”

However, fire departments typically use specific terms to identify their vehicles. In Colorado Springs, units are identified by the vehicle type and the fire station where they are assigned. Thus Engine 9 is a fire engine (pumper) operating out of Station 9; Truck 4 is a ladder truck operating out of Station 4; and so on. “The truck from Engine 9” just makes no sense whatsoever. 

Any reporter who’s assigned to cover public safety really needs to be familiar with basic terminology. Otherwise their work might end up on my blog.

And as evidenced by the misspelled “enoroute,” and the inappropriate pronoun (“they” for the single noun “truck”), it’s clear that reporters also really need to be familiar with English spelling and grammar…

Care to join me in some aspirin for that headache?

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