This book reads like a very rough first draft, complete with the author’s notes-to-oneself:
“Dr. Murphy, I appreciate your taking time to meet with me. And thank you for allowing us to videotape your class,” Stephanie Kovacs said as she approached.
Murphy was waiting on the steps of the student center.
See, it’s like a note in the draft. (Scene takes place after class at the student center.) Because why should we care where Murphy and Stephanie are meeting? They could meet in the empty classroom or in his office or in a coffee shop and it means nothing to the conversation.
Why is she being so nice and polite? This isn’t her usual go-for-the-jugular attack. [thought Murphy]
For a college professor, Murphy sure isn’t a deep or nuanced thinker, is he? Why do people behave one way at one time and another way at a different time? Why aren’t people exactly the same all the time? This is so confusing!
(Hell, if nothing else, he should be worried that Stephanie is trying to sucker him in, put him at his ease, so he’ll relax and she can move in for the kill. But no, he doesn’t even consider that possibility.)
Stephanie actually just wants to ask Murphy some questions without the cameraman, though these questions seem the very type that would necessitate a cameraman. Specifically, she wants to ask about the ark:
“A few months ago you were in the midst of planning an expedition to look for Noah’s Ark. Did you in fact go to Ararat?”
Yes, he did. A few months ago. Way to keep on top of breaking news, Stephanie.
Oh, and this confirms what I suspected: that it took him several months to come clean to his pastor and “friend” Bob Wagoner about what happened.
Murphy bizarrely reveals that they did in fact find the ark, though there is absolutely no evidence, which you would think would just make him look like more of a crackpot to Stephanie. And he even tells her about all the deaths, while not mentioning Talon (!) or the brass plates. So, he’s lying to her, but even though we don’t see the usual LaJenkinsian dialogue, I’m sure he talked around the issue, saying things that were technically true without giving enough specifics that the listener could discern the actual facts.
But Stephanie doesn’t seem to notice or care:
Could there really be an ark? Murphy doesn’t seem to be one of those weirdo, right-wing Christian nuts that I’ve interviewed before.
HE DOESN’T??? Because you just now listened to him proselytize to his entire archaeology class. And say that he found Noah’s ark, though he conveniently has no evidence.
And the murders…did Shane have anything to do with them?
Um, no. They took place in Turkey, and he wasn’t even there, and Talon did it. But Stephanie remembers that Shane said that the Seven said that people like Murphy “have to be stopped” before they can persuade others that we’re gearing up to the Tribulation. From this, Stephanie bizarrely concludes that Murphy is in immediate danger, even though the Seven could certainly kill Murphy whenever they pleased. One sniper, job done, yanno? It’s not like the guy looks out for his own safety or anything.
But Murphy changes the subject again, asking Stephanie what she thought of the end of the lecture and the question of purpose in life. He also asks her if she’s happy, which did not come up in class and is a different question entirely.
Murphy had struck a nerve. She was not happy with Barrington. She didn’t want to be a mistress.
Good thing she’s not one, then.
She wanted to be loved for who she was, not what she could do in bed.
Which wasn’t presented as the reason Barrington proposed the relationship. Sure, he was attracted to Stephanie, but it seemed far more about mutual goals and his respect for her intelligence than about just a lay. After all, Barrington is incredibly rich, powerful, and handsome. Certainly he can get sex whenever he wants it.
But what this is really about is showing that a woman who has sex before marriage is a filthy lady whore. Not to mention the implication that enjoying sex is something only an evil, unsaved person would do. This isn’t really about a woman discovering she’s unhappy in her relationship. It’s about scolding her for being in it in the first place, showing that monogamous sex between two consenting adults will only lead to shame and sadness because they are unmarried unbelievers.
Because that is way more important than the discovery of Noah’s ark.
Murphy could feel his Irish temper rising.
You might wonder what’s causing this. Maybe Meth has created another pointless trap to make Murphy risk his life yet again, since we had that kind of drama at the very beginning of the book.
It had all started when he pulled up in the parking lot and saw the van with BNN on the side. The thought of Barrington Network News being on campus brought a bad taste to his mouth.
That’s it. A news van is on the campus of his college.
Mike, you know that van could be there for any number of reasons, right? Some sports event or famous person visiting campus, or an art exhibit or student play, or maybe they’re just getting some footage for a puff piece. “Here at Preston University, the students are certainly enjoying this beautiful spring, Janet!”
Murphy bitterly remembers how BNN was on the scene of the church bombing a year and a half ago, because there should be absolutely no news coverage of acts of terrorism that kill people. He lays it out for the slower readers:
All the reporters wanted was a big story. They didn’t care about people’s feelings.
Intellectual Christian adventurer Michael Murphy sure is into stereotyping entire professions, isn’t he?
He also flashes back to Hank Baines’ funeral, which, I get that was annoying to Murphy and all, but it should logically prejudice him against just Stephanie Kovacs, not everyone involved in the news profession.
And, of course, Stephanie is once again interested only in what Murphy has to say. She has staked out the lecture hall, and since she and her news crew just so happened to be in the area, would it be okay if they sat in on his lecture?
Why, sure! “Anyone is free to come in, Miss Kovacs.”
Now, granted that Michael Murphy is a media whore, but that still seems like a terribly liberal policy for a lecturing professor. Anyone is welcome? You’d think that would lead to plenty of distractions, but I guess as long as Murph gets himself filmed, to hell with it.
The lecture is on Babylon, and Murphy spends half a page on the most boring aspect of the Bible: the endless genealogies. He lays out the baby-having that led to the Tower of Babel, upon which Clayton, the class clown who was also the class clown back in Ararat and apparently just takes every course Murphy offers, makes a GREAT joke:
“I thought the Tower of Babel was where King Solomon kept all his wives.”
But Murphy takes note of levity in his classroom, and gets his own back a minute later, when talking about the bricks of Babylon, which were inscribed with Nebuchadnezzar’s name, “King of Babylon“:
“I know you’re disappointed they didn’t have your name on them, Clayton. They would have said King of Jokes.”
Everyone laughed and whistled.
…because they knew that was how to get an ‘A’ in Murphy’s class.
Murphy really doesn’t have control of this room, does he? Can’t work around even one smart-ass. But no, Murph has to be the “funny,” “cool” professor.
And the professor who sucks at PowerPoint slides since all he puts on them are lists of numbers and names (the dimensions of the steps of the Babylonian ziggurat and the same of Babylonian gods, respectively). And I feel compelled to point out that this is going to be the worst news story ever. (“And now, folks, we’re going to cut LIVE to Preston University, where a random professor showed some PowerPoint slides to his bored students! After that, we’ll get around to other news like national politics and the crisis in the Middle East.”)
And of course, Murphy follows his usual course of not talking about archaeology in his archaeology class, and instead expounding (again!) on creationism.
“Throughout human history, men have talked about various gods. Part of the reason for this is the fact that we can look about us and see the grandeur of creation. We ask, Where did this all come from? Could it have just happened? Did it just pop up from nothing?”
Yanno, Murphy, you kinda got humiliated in that whole failed-to-bring-back-evidence-of-Noah’s-Ark-debacle not too long ago. Maybe lay off the creationism schtick for a little while, eh?
And then he segues into the Meaning of Life:
“Whoever this designer was, they must certainly be smarter than me.”
Oh nobody doubts that, Murph.
“Is there a purpose to life? And can I come to know what this purpose is?”
And…that’s the end of Professor Murphy’s ARCHAEOLOGY class. The students who are actually interested in the subject must be so pissed right now.
“Okay, can it, everybody—plot’s back.”
-Joel, MST3K, Catalina Caper
Now that we’ve reset everything and put the characters where they belong, it’s time to talk about the MacGuffin. Meth’s envelope actually contained nothing but plaster. The plaster, now only pieces and dust, might have once been something, but Meth’s stupidly-dangerous and complicated plan made Murphy crumple the envelope, possibly destroying what was inside.
But it basically doesn’t matter to Murphy, who has been thinking about the scale and words back in Colorado.
And I will add here that I find it more than a little bit creepy that Shari has apparently begun referring to Michael Murphy as “Murphy,” not “Professor Murphy” as in the past books. Because his dead wife, Laura, called him “Murphy.” More and more, Murphy (and, it seems, LaHaye and Phillips) are blurring the lines between dead wife and alive research assistant.
Murphy (after the fact, now that he won’t get in trouble) tells Shari about the adventure in Colorado, and hypothesizes that the words are “referring to the head of the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar built. The same one that was taken to the Parchments of Freedom Foundation.”
“You remember, Shari, when you were smacking around your wounded ‘boyfriend?'”
“Methuselah was giving me directions to another find. It must be located 375 meters directly northeast of where we found the golden head.”
…”Hold on to your pigtails. I think you’re going to like this. I think it might be the Handwriting on the Wall that was mentioned in Daniel, Chapter Five.“
Man, imagine if Murphy had to do his own research and searching. Good thing he has this atheist around to point him to locations that actually have Biblical finds!
So Murphy clues in the clueless readers (through the clueless Shari) on what the handwriting on the wall actually says:
“It said, ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.'”
Geez, no need to yell about it, Murphy!
Murphy explains what it all means, and I’ll just cite one of Phillips’ favorite sources, Wikipedia.
And he explains that the plaster is probably from the very wall on which God wrote the words. Which means Methuselah already found the gorram wall with the writing, so this entire expedition of Murphy’s is just for show.
The chapter ends with Murphy calling Isis in D.C. He asks her to meet him in New York for the weekend.
Nope, it’s not for sexy fun times, but just for more Biblical stuff. Yet Phillips tells us that Isis has just been literally waiting by the phone for Murphy, and that “hearing his voice had sent a thrill through her.” Which is pretty impressive seeing as how Murphy has put her life on the line multiple times, while hiding his true feelings and not giving her any of the credit. But it’s important for us to know that Isis is just sitting there looking pretty, waiting. As a woman should.
Bet you guys can’t guess what Chapter 5 in The Secret on Ararat was about!
Yup, it was about Shane meeting with the Seven (who will, as always, Stop at Nothing) to discuss their plans about Michael Murphy.
This time, Bob Phillips throws us a curve ball by having Shane and Stephanie discuss their plans for Michael Murphy.
First, though, we need to be clear on the fact that women who have sex are filthy whores:
[Stephanie] could see the emptiness in her eyes as she looked in the mirror to put on her lipstick.
Do you like being a mistress? Is it worth the price?
Sorry, Bob Phillips, but Stephanie is still nobody’s mistress. She is single and Shane is divorced. They can both sleep with whomever they want.
Stephanie is upset because she “had sold her own pride and self-image for an extravagant lifestyle, for power and influence, and to further her career as a news journalist.”
Um, okay. The power part I get–they established that in Babylon. And the extravagant lifestyle I get, as Shane has plenty of money and also is happy to spoil her. But sell g her own pride and self-image? She’s dating somebody! What is so wrong?
And as for furthering her career, well…maybe. But Stephanie was already a household name long before she started dating Shane, so he can’t have helped her in that way too awfully much.
Stephanie is on a date with Shane in his penthouse, and it appears that Phillips has pushed the reset button on the series. See, last we left Shane and Stephanie, he had laid all his cards on the table for her, telling her about the Seven and how they owned his ass, and how they were obsessed with Michael Murphy because he sees the End Times coming.
Yet now, Shane inexplicably plays cat-and-mouse with Stephanie, sending her off to visit Murphy and sit in on his classes, simply because “we haven’t had a good news story in a couple of weeks” (really???). So Stephanie also plays dumb, like “okay, if that’s what you want” casual. So even though they’ve been together for over a year and he’s told her his secrets, Phillips still tells us that their relationship is “empty.”
The chapter ends with Stephanie giving Shane a hug, which he (correctly) interprets as an invitation for sex. But we can’t say “sex”… when the monogamous couple is going to have sex. Instead, Barrington coyly tells himself that “I’ll have a good evening tonight.” Right on, dude.
So Chapter 4 is Murphy getting his pastor, Bob Wagoner, up to date on what happened in the last book.
Hey, anyone wanna guess what Chapter 4 of The Secret on Ararat was about?
Yup, Murphy has lunch with Bob at the same diner, where they eat the same food served by the same “waddling” waitress.
Then a weird thing happens: See, in Ararat, they establish that it’s been six months since the events in Babylon Rising. And now, in Europa, we’re told that it’s been a year and a half since Laura’s death in Babylon.
Which means that the events in Ararat took a year, or Murphy has waited months to tell his friend and pastor about finding Noah’s ark.
So apparently Murphy makes quite a habit of ditching people he allegedly cares about for months at a time.
Murphy relates the basics of the events on Ararat, and Bob is “absolutely spellbound by the tragic story,” and that’s before Murphy hits the punchline that they actually found the ark. If anything, Bob seems relatively uninterested in the greatest archeological find in human history, one that proves that their god is indeed a dickhead who drowned millions. So uninterested that after talking about the ark for 36 seconds (yes, I times myself reading the dialogue because I am a nerd), he changes the subject to Murphy’s love life.
Murphy talks about how attracted he is to Isis for less than 30 seconds (timed myself again), then he changes the subject to the plates (that were bronze in Ararat but have now inexplicably changed to brass) that fell into the sea in Ararat.
Bob, of all people, comes up with the pretty good plan to get a mini-sub and follow the route of the ship they took until they find the plates. But Murphy ditches Bob (why, I don’t know) without so much as a thank you for the idea.
Damn, I’ve missed you, Murphy.
Let’s pop right to Chapter 3, as Murphy returns to work after the canyon escapade, since it’s super-short. In fact, the chapter is just barely over one page long, but that’s long enough to reinforce the extremely creepy way that Murphy equates his 21-year-old research assistant with his dead wife:
“This doesn’t have anything to do with Methuselah, does it?” [asked Shari]
Her words sounded just like something Laura would say. Ever since Laura had died, Shari had taken over the job of worrying about him.
Yeah, we know:
This is also the chapter in Ararat in which Murphy worries that his constant lying to Shari will get him “in trouble” with her.
I also mentioned back then that there are sound psychological reasons why poor, friendless orphan Shari would cling to this surrogate father figure, no matter how much he lies to her and belittles her and pawns off responsibilities onto her (like those puppies from Ararat, that are never seen again after Shari adopts them).
And I’m sure Murphy has his own reasons for treating Shari (and thinking of her) like a surrogate wife (without the sexual component, natch). Emotionally, it’s a lot “safer” for him to think of Shari that way, than it would be to build a relationship between two equal adults. The power imbalance in their relationship, both professional and religious, means Shari will never challenge him or argue with him the way Isis, for example, might. So Murphy gets the comfort of thinking of Shari as Substitute Laura, without having to actually act like a partner in an adult relationship.
Following the precedent established by Greg Dinallo, Phillips intersperses Michael Murphy chapters with Bible stories. In Babylon Rising, it was all about King Neb and his dream. In The Secret on Ararat, it was, of course, Noah and the ark. Here, we pop right into the story of Daniel and the lions’ den. Which is a bit odd, since it was at the beginning of Babylon Rising that Murphy did battle with a lion.
And Daniel doesn’t even battle a lion, but we’ll get to that.
Here is the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, in case anyone would like a refresher.
To be fair, Europa sticks pretty closely to the skeleton that is the Bible account, with some details thrown in for drama. For example, the satraps have “body odor.” Which I’m sure at that time was only a problem for those particular evil guys, and not for anyone else.
They also have the problem of only being able to say nice things about their enemy, just like The Seven did back in Babylon Rising.
“He is not a man who can be bribed or corrupted. He is too honest.”
“His dedicated religious faith can be twisted and used against him.”
And so it is, as the satraps convince King Darius, who’s apparently not the brightest penny in the jar, to randomly make a law…that will be effective for only one month, that nobody gets to pray to anybody or anything except Darius.
That has to be one of the stupidest laws ever. Why only a month? Why not outlaw praying to anyone except the king forever?
But don’t worry—we know that it’s just because Darius is an idiot, since he’s short and chubby.
“Proving again that slightly unattractive people are evil!”
-Crow T. Robot, MST3K, Jack Frost
So Daniel is caught praying to his god, since said god would never, ever understand Daniel holding off, or praying silently, for a whole entire month in order to stay alive. He is thrown into the den of lions, and they’re smelly, too! Just like the satraps!
Within minutes, Daniel realizes that the lions aren’t going to attack him. So, he sits around and starts thinking about how he first came to Babylon.
So, look forward to a flashback within a flashback!
So having been told by the utterly pointless character Tyler Scott to go to a specific spot in the canyon and “look for the cables,” Murphy does so. He finds a section of the gorge about 150 feet wide, with “two cables spanning the void attached to large trees on either side,” one higher than the other. We’re also told that the cables are one thousand feet above the river. So it’s very clear that LaHaye and Phillips have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom multiple times.
A manila envelope is attached to the upper cable, halfway out.
So Murphy does the sensible thing: he detaches one of the top cables and retrieves the envelope.
HA! Almost had you there for a minute, didn’t I? Nope, Murphy just heads right on out over the pit of doom that Methuselah has set up, feet on lower cable, hands on upper cable, wincing and sliding and stepping out right to the middle, a thousand feet off the ground. This process takes him fifteen minutes.
Murph doesn’t really think these things through, does he? Knowing that he was going on an “adventure” to the Royal Gorge, it apparently did not occur to Murphy to bring along any mountaineering gear, even gloves (his hands must be ripped to shreds on that cable, which is basically holding up his whole weight!), or a harness to save him just in case he slipped
And knowing there would be cables involved, he didn’t think to bring anything to work with cables like, oh, say, SOMETHING TO CUT THEM WITH.
(Hilariously, there is a Home Depot only fifteen miles from the Royal Gorge. I think it would be cool if Murphy gazed at the death trap for a moment, hopped in his car, went and bought some cable cutters, and simply disabled the trap.)
So when he actually gets there and stuffs the envelope down his shirt and starts on his long trek back (damn, but he’s stupid), Meth calls out to him from some unseen vantage point, “almost causing Murphy to lose his balance.”
Reason #72 why you don’t head out there, hanging by your own two hands from a cable, without some kind of safety gear. Reason #87 why you should have gotten cable cutters in the first place.
And hell, this is stupid on Meth’s part, too. It’s been established in the previous two books that Meth actually intend for Murphy to succeed in these little tests. He just wants to make his little puppet dance a bit first. So when he sees that Murphy has taken the stupidest and deadliest path to the prize, why startle him and potentially get him killed, when you don’t want him dead???
But I guess now Meth does want him dead, because he cuts the foot cable. Murphy sensibly swings his legs onto the top cable, so now he’s hanging onto that one by both hand and foot, but then Meth cuts the top cable, too.
And Murphy immediately slides right off the cable and plummets to his ignoble death.
HA! Yeah, right. Murphy is an action hero, so he hangs on to a cable as he falls 75 feet and doesn’t let go or slide off.
Damn, LaPhillips, I thought you guys watched Temple of Doom. At least there they wrapped their arms multiple times before falling. I mean, it was still ridiculous, but that made it slightly less so.
Also, Indiana Jones has way more cred than Murphy.
Murphy has “moments” before he hits the wall of the canyon. (Really?) And he is “able to hold on.” (Of course.) But then he slips about 20 feet down the cable, and “his hands were shredded.” (I told you so, Murph! Wishing you had brought those gloves now, aren’t ya?)
He climbs the cable up the canyon wall, then finds a little ledge where he has some water and a power bar, then has a nap.
This ledge is five feet by four feet. And it’s a thousand-foot drop.
I thought you weren’t supposed to fall asleep in a sky cell. Bad things can happen. (Pic from Game of Thrones Wiki)
Then a page is spent telling us how Murphy makes prussic knots out of his belt and knapsack, and uses them to scale the rest of the wall to the tippy-top. So sounds like his shredded hands healed right up. This passage is clearly meant to make Murphy seem resourceful, but it again just makes him look stupid for not coming prepared.
At the top, Murphy finds that Meth has left a scale that I don’t care about, and a note that says, “BABYLON–375 METERS DIRECTLY NORTHEAST OF THE HEAD.”
And he finally remembers the envelope, which contains crushed plaster.
And I’ve officially given up on understanding Meth. I mean, the lion in the warehouse, I got. He had some measure of control there. But the cave? Much less control. And here? Well, Murphy’s own stupidity obviously contributed, but unless Meth strung up an invisible net we don’t know about, he seems to have been just fine with Murphy dying whenever.
Guys, I just don’t get Meth anymore.
As those of you who have been with me through the previous two books in the series know, the books always begin with Michael Murphy in the middle of some amazing adventure.
In the first book, he was falling down a hole in an abandoned warehouse.
In the second, he was rescuing puppies and nearly drowning in a cave.
In this one, he is suspended on wires over a gorge.
In a rather shocking departure from the mini-chapters of the Underground Zealot series, LaHaye and Phillips have here opted for a super-long expository opening chapter, cutting back and forth (and back and forth AND BACK AND FORTH) between Murphy at the gorge and Murphy some time earlier, following the clues that would eventually lead to the gorge.
Done right, this would be a cool way to drag out the suspense. But the “clues” are so boring and stupid, and Murphy is such a bad detective, and so self-righteous and annoying, that it’s just a chore.
So I’ll give it to you straight: first, Methuselah sends Murphy a poem. I am going to reproduce it in its entirety below, because I hate it so very much:
A gorgeous sight,
A Royal delight.
Travel not at night
But in the daylight.
He’s looking for you to come!
Beyond the gates
He there awaits.
He’s looking for you to come!
For he to you, he cannot go.
For him his time is slow.
He’s looking for you to come!
His name has been caught.
It is Tyler Scott.
He’s looking for you to come.
Use your brain, don’t be a blunder-head.
The Spanish name it for the color red.
He’s looking for you to come.
So Professor Mike and Shari begin to pick apart the poem:
“Well, he does mention ‘He’s waiting for you to come’ five different times. That must be significant.” [said Shari]
“It must be a key thought.” [said Murphy]
GEE, YA THINK???
Shari immediately discerns that Colorado is the “Spanish name is for the color red” part, even though you would think many things are named for the color red.
Then Murphy immediately susses out that the rest of the poem is referring to the Cañon City Penitentiary, by which I assume he means one of several prisons in the Cañon City area. Now, he properly knows this because he visited with his parents when he was a kid and they “spent almost a month touring the state.”
Hot damn. What did his parents do for a living that they could both take a month off? No wonder Murphy takes his work responsibilities so lightly.
But Murphy goes on from there. And thus begins the most annoying aspect of this book (yes, even more annoying that bad poetry): Bob Phillips’ reliance on Wikipedia to write his book for him.
At too many times in the book to count (not that it’ll stop me from trying!) a character will just STOP and expound on a subject to a hapless listener for minutes on end.
So even though it has absolutely nothing to do with anything, Murphy goes on and ON about the prison, talking about historical gas chambers and names of wardens and famous prisoners. Then he finally gets to a point:
“Near Cañon City is the Royal Gorge…get it? A gorgeous sight, a Royal delight.”
And the point is quickly obscured as Murphy rattles off exact statistics about bridge heights. Because being smart only means you have instant recall of obscure numbers.
So all this poem is for is to show Murphy that there is a prisoner at the Cañon City prison named Tyler Scott. And ever so coincidentally, it’s Spring Break, so Murphy can fly out to meet him!
Like he wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t a break.
At the prison, Murphy visits with Tyler Scott, a young man in prison for holding up a convenience store. Even his parents have stopped coming to see him due to their disappointment. And despite the fact that Methuselah visited him several MONTHS ago, Tyler proves to have remarkable recall, even using the same words Murphy has always used to describe Meth:
“His voice was different. He sort of laughed and cackled when he talked. Kind of spooky, if you ask me.”
Thanks, Tyler. He also remembers in exact detail the instructions he was to give Murphy to get him to the Royal Gorge, which Murphy already knew from the poem anyway. Which brings up a point: why the hell did Meth go to all this trouble to get Murphy to the Gorge? In Babylon, Meth gave Murphy directions over the phone. In Ararat, Meth sent Murphy a map. In this case, Murphy has to dissect a poem just to get to the go-between guy who’s going to give him directions to the final destination. Meth has involved a middleman, when he never has before.
Now, you guys and I all know that this is just a time-wasting technique on LaHaye & Phillips’ part. But Murphy doesn’t know that. You might, in fact, assume that young Tyler Scott has some significance. Why, out of all the people in the state of Colorado, did Meth choose him to deliver a message to Murphy? Is Tyler important to Meth? His son, nephew, some kind of associate?
Um, no. None of the above. This was all totally random.
But hey, it filled up a few pages!
Plus, it gives Murphy the chance to spread the faith: he leaves Tyler Scott money and a Bible, to “help you create a new life for yourself.”
Plus plus, it gives him an opportunity to think superior thoughts:
What a great time I had [in Colorado] with my dad. If Tyler Scott had had a caring dad, would his life be any different?
Okay, I know Tyler’s dad hasn’t visited and is disappointed in him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a caring parent before. Maybe this armed robbery was the last in a long string of huge criminal acts and assorted screw-ups on the part of his son, and Dad is finally resorting to Tough Love.
Speaking of the man, where is Murphy’s dad these days? Remember, he didn’t show up at Laura’s funeral in Babylon Rising, yet Murphy has also never alluded to his dad being dead. Yeah, real caring guy, I guess.
Murphy also doesn’t spare a thought for his mom, who was also along for the Colorado jaunt. I guess wimmins don’t matter, at least when it comes to turning out non-criminal children.
Next time, the Gorgeous
Before we jump into the
horror relief that is The Europa Conspiracy, we have our third and final installment of Inquisitive Raven’s expert additional critique of the firefighting in Fireproof. (I forgot to post it sooner because between a Wintermas cold and Kirk’s obsession with hot chocolate, I guess I banished him from my thoughts!)
So without further ado, I’ll hand it over to Inquisitive Raven!
Now for the third and final installment of my Fireproof critique. Today we’re going to cover the fire call, and let me tell you that it is a textbook example of how not to run a fire scene. Now while our hostess’ criticisms of the protagonist’s actions are spot on for his actions inside the building, in the context of the entire incident, he comes off much worse. How can this be? Well, before I get into that, let me introduce you to the Incident Command System.
In short, the ICS is a system for determining who’s in charge of what in an emergency response, especially one involving multiple agencies. Using the fire call in the movie as an example, the responding agencies would be the fire department (two companies), EMS, and one hopes, the police department. Now each of the fire companies is presumably headed up by a captain, and in the absence of a battalion chief, one of them would be the Incident Commander. Protocol dictates that the one who arrives on scene first is in charge until someone with higher seniority, e.g. the battalion chief, arrives or the IC explicitly transfers command to someone else. Caleb is the captain of his company. I’m sure most of you can see where this is going.
I’ll follow up on that later, but for now, let’s start the play-by-play. The filmmakers don’t set this call up the way they did the vehicle rescue. Instead, they go directly from horsing around in the bunkroom to reacting to the dispatch:
“Engine 2, Engine 1, Aerial(?)1, Battalion 1, Respond to [incident location], structure fire, residence. Time out XXXX.”
Note that I’m not sure if the dispatcher is saying “Area One” or “Aerial One,” but in context, I think “Aerial One” makes more sense. It could easily refer to the ladder, and calling the ladder “Aerial One” makes more sense than calling it “Battalion One,” especially since the ladders are listed as “[x] feet aerial” on Albany’s Apparatus Page. Now, if the dispatch is being sensible instead of internally consistent, then “Battalion One” might actually be referring to the battalion chief this time. With two companies being dispatched, they’ll need a unified command and that’s the battalion chief’s job.
Our hostess makes a point of mentioning how all the firefighters in the company are men, but in fairness to the filmmakers, I feel I should point out that firefighting is still a male dominated occupation. Case in point, a complete roster of full time firefighters in my sister’s town is available on the department website, and out of forty-five firefighters, at most three are women. I say “at most,” because one of them has a given name that could go either way. That means that out of four shifts, at least one has no female personnel on it. Similarly, when I joined Manoa, there was exactly one woman with firefighter qualifications, and that was the case when I checked Manoa’s website to research these articles. By the time I left, a few more women had qualified as firefighters,but the male firefighters and EMS only women still outnumbered them.
At any rate, the apparatus rolls, and when our hero (I think I’ll call him Dolt) notifies dispatch that they’re responding, dispatch tells him “Please be aware we have received numerous calls regarding this structure fire.” Yep, another useless transmission from the dispatcher. A better message would have been something along the lines of “Please be aware that we have received several reports of flames visible,” which at least gives some idea of the seriousness of the situation. A report of smoke visible would also provide some information, although, unlike flames, it’s no guarantee that there’s actually a fire (If people want to find out how I know that, ask in the comments).
When they get to the scene, Dolt calls the dispatcher to notify them that he’s arrived and takes command as first on scene. This is important. Again, I note a distinct absence of cops. They should be doing crowd control.
While talking to the residents and their next door neighbors, they find out that the residents’ daughter is still inside. Dad freaks out and attempts to run back inside only to be stopped by Lt. Christian. This only works because distraught dad runs right past the guy; otherwise, I have no doubt he’d be able to outrun the fittest person in firefighter turnout and wearing an air pack. Having put one on, I can assure you that they are not lightweight objects. A couple of cops would be better suited to the job.
Now we get to the part that our hostess covered in detail. She writes:
For all his talk (even in the truck on the way to this very fire) about sticking with your partner, Caleb…crawls into the house on his own, looking for the kid. Everyone else sticks at the front of the house and are separated from Caleb when some of the roof caves.
So, Caleb is trapped in a back bedroom with the kid, but without his partner. Because he left his partner.
Oh, and for reasons best known to himself, Caleb deliberately set down his walkie-talkie before heading into the house. So he has no way of letting anyone know exactly where her is.
Now I wanna know why he goes in to rescue the girl. Doylisticly, it’s to show him being a hero, but IRL terms, he’s just abandoned his post. Keep in mind that unless he hands the job off to someone else, he’s the Incident Commander. As such, his job is directing the other firefighters, not going into burning buildings to rescue little girls. Lt. Christian is busy restraining Worried Dad and the rookie is operating the pumper, but there’s two more firefighters in his company and however many from the second company that he can send in. That’s their job. His job is to give the orders because someone needs to be in charge of the scene. I would add that as people are scrambling to prep for entering the building, no one seems to be. That also makes his leaving his walkie-talkie behind even more reprehensible. Later on we see a different officer giving orders. Since he has a red helmet, I’m assuming that he’s the captain of the second company, but whether he’s the second captain or the battalion chief, he’s doing the job Dolt was supposed to be doing, but isn’t and didn’t formally hand off. At least there was no sign of him doing so onscreen. Note: Rank and file firefighters wear yellow helmets; the known officers wear red helmets. Based on my experience, I’d expect the battalion chief to wear a white helmet, but I don’t know for sure that zie does, and we never see any helmet colors except red and yellow.
Okay, rant over. Does everyone understand why I consider this guy’s antics much worse than our hostess did, when her opinion was quite bad enough?
Now, I am about as far from being an expert on firefighting as it is possible to be, but is it really advisable for Caleb to take off his oxygen mask and his firefighting jacket, and put them on the unconscious kid? Doesn’t Caleb need them more at this moment? I mean, I keep thinking about being on an airplane—secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Because if Caleb is injured or collapses from smoke inhalation, they’re both screwed. Isn’t it better, instead of wasting time fumbling with the gear, to get them both out as quickly as possible so the kid can get medical attention?
There’s not much I can actually add to that, but we’ll see what I can do. One correction first, those tanks contain compressed air which is only about 20% oxygen. That’s because you don’t want pure oxygen anywhere near open flames.
As for taking off the mask and the turnout putting it on the kid… Remember Rule One, “Don’t add to the number of people needing to be rescued”? Yeah, this is a violation. You look to your own safety first, because if something happens to you, it’s not just that you’re both screwed. It’s that now people need to expend effort on your behalf that could’ve been used to help the original victim. Like I said in my previous post, the entire first day of EMT class was spent on this.
Also, the reason I have experience wearing an air pack is that one of the firefighter drills I participated in was the proper use of same. The training officer rather pointedly told us not give the mask to any anyone we found inside a burning building. So, yeah, Dolt shouldn’t have done that.
In conclusion, that fire scene is a fine example of how not to handle incident command and how not to rescue an entrapped fire victim. It would have been entirely appropriate for Dolt to called in front of a review board regarding his conduct at that fire.