More than victims
Normally in the wake of a tragic accident or natural disaster, it is not appropriate to make any qualitative comment on the victims — nobody deserves to die that way whether good or bad, old or young, rich or poor, etc. and nor does the grim reaper usually discriminate — but paying tribute to the human quality of those firefighters crushed by collapsing walls while fighting a warehouse blaze in Barracas yesterday morning is perhaps the first duty of any commentary. While the victims of any catastrophe who are not deliberately suicidal are always unwilling by definition, here we are talking about volunteers who place their lives on the line to protect society for almost no reward and who yesterday lost them in several cases while battling to survive in others. They are unsung heroes who deserve far more recognition from society at large.
If the nature of the victims is different in this case, so are the lessons to be drawn. In previous tragedies the blame game began almost immediately between the various levels of government but while both national Security Secretary Sergio Berni and City Security Minister Guillermo Montenegro were on the scene quite promptly yesterday, the issue here goes beyond where responsibility falls. Another common denominator of previous lethal disasters has been to point out Argentina’s deficit in modernizing its infrastructure as the root cause of the tragedy but while collapsing walls were the immediate cause of death yesterday and while we should not condone neglect for a moment, the real lesson from the Barracas calamity should perhaps be sought elsewhere. The bank records stored in the Barracas warehouse were just one example of the growing piles of legal, business and other papers all over this city which are virtual fire traps. In the immediate term the precautions in such places should be multiplied and ultimately this risk should be minimized. While a newspaper would be the last voice to call for the total elimination of paper, perhaps its use should be limited to current purposes with all previous records digitized. Such a project would not only speed Argentina’s entry into the 21st century but also do more to help the young.
Meanwhile the nation is quite justifiably in two days of national mourning.