We here at Grist mock a lot of people. But we don’t always manage to mock some sense into them. Which is why we’re pretty psyched about the response to Sarah Laskow’s feature story revealing that congressional staffers were making deadly wildfires into a fun office pool:
McKie Campbell, the [Senate Energy and Natural Resources] committee’s Republican staff director, said the contest has been stopped.
“It will never happen again,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It was in no way indicative of disrespect for any of the folks who put their lives on the line to battle the fires.”
The pool, organized by Energy and Natural Resources Committee staffer Frank Gladics, had staffers (mostly, though not all, Republicans) guess how much destruction wildfires would wreak in a year. The winner got a hat: “the Wizard Hat; the When Pigs Fly Hat; or the mechanical Holly-Jolly Christmas Hat.” The losers died or lost all their possessions in a wildfire.
A morbid version of a jellybean-counting contest, the pool asks staffers to guess the number of acres that will burn each year; guesses that exceed the actual number, as reported in the National Interagency Fire Center Situation Report [PDF], are disqualified.
At best, this little stunt could be excused as gallows humor — a peculiar inside-the-Beltway bonding ritual for disaster wonks. Since wildfires level people’s homes, imperil both residents and firefighters, and serve as a barometer for climate-change-driven havoc, the annual game might also simply be tone-deaf, tasteless, and heartless.
But, you know, no disrespect.
Having their gross little game exposed was very embarrassing for the staffers, not to mention seriously pissing off firefighters and their families. Gladics apologized in an email and will probably be punished by not being allowed to wear the Holly-Jolly Hat for a week. I’m not sure I trust someone who thinks this stuff is fun any further than I can take out his appendix, but at least in theory, the contest is over for good.