Hi I just read the post about knocking a friend out before they did something dangerous I was curious about your thought on a scene that is somewhat related to that but also different. Basically there is a group of bad guys in a burning building and the hero knocks out a fire fighter who enters the building, then brings them outside reasoning that they would safer out of the fight even with the risk of knocking them out.


So, this
is a follow up to this post, and it’s going to be a bit harsh. Hence, why I’m
answering it as an unattributed quote, instead of the actual ask.

As we’ve
said many times before, knocking someone out is a cheat. It’s an easy out, to
move characters around, without including any of the consequences that you’d
associate with attacking another character. Particularly a friendly character,
or one with plot armor. Also, there’s some other major problems in this

You have
characters burning a building. Okay, fine. You have your hero on the scene.
Again, that’s fine. If your character’s goal is to stop the antagonists, that
means they go where they’re needed. You have firefighters on the scene. Note
the plural. These guys travel in packs. They’re not the lone wolf type who will
rush into burning buildings alone. In most modern environments, this also means
the other first responders are going to be on the scene. That’s police and Emergency
Medical Services (EMS). So, the bad guys are here, the cops are here, the firefighters
and paramedics have arrived, and your character is bouncing around in the
middle. Still, this is fine, mostly.

But, this
is where problems start to catch up.

it may be different for firefighters (though, I doubt it), but with EMS, if the
situation you’ve been called into isn’t secure, you do not go in.

EMT certification
quizzes include questions like, “you arrive at a bar, the bartender tells you
someone was shot out back. The police aren’t here yet. What do you do?” If you
answer with anything other than, “wait
for the police to arrive and secure the scene,” you’re done. Out. You failed
the test with one question.

In the
hypothetical and in real life, you are to sit there and let someone die, rather
than run into a situation you don’t have control over and risk getting yourself killed. That’s a job for the police. They go in, secure the place, then you get to go in and do your job.
Not the other way round.

Your bad
guys are still torching the place. Firefighters will not go in until the police have stopped them. The only way
around this is if your bad guys are hiding. Which is possible, but it’s very
likely the 911 call that got them on their way mentioned psychos torching the
place. That means it’s a police problem first, theirs as a distant second.
Evacuate nearby buildings, help contain the blaze, and keep it from spreading?
Sure. Stumbling into a combat zone? Not so much. Stumbling into a combat zone
is more SWAT’s purview.

Second, firefighters
are a team, not loners. (Really, this is true of all emergency services.) If
you’ve got one going into a building to search for survivors trapped by the flames,
they’re not going to be doing that alone.

they’re looking for people, they’ll find your bad guys, and then pull out. Again,
people actively torching the place is an issue for the police. As soon as they
realize they’re dealing with people trying to kill them, their place is

the moment your character attacks an emergency responder, they’re signing on
with the bad guys. Okay, the bad guys might not accept the job offer, but it’s
the thought that counts. Remember when I said emergency responders were a team?
Yeah, in attacking one, your character is not only committing a crime, in the moment,
they’re also making themselves an enemy of the police and the other responders
on scene. In the moment, the larger context doesn’t really matter.

there’s a couple practical consideration to knocking out a firefighter, they’re
wearing 75lbs of armor. Granted, their turnout gear might not do much against
gunfire, but it will do wonders against idealistic fools who attempt to
incapacitate them. (Actually, given that turnout gear is made from a Kevlar
variant, it might be bullet resistant; I’m not certain.) They also have the
least to worry about, in there, since they’re protected against the flames, and your firebugs will go
after anyone, anyway.

This is,
of course, entirely ignoring the issues associated with knocking someone out (which
is to say, you can’t really do that.) For those of you who haven’t read our Concussions tag, here’s a very short recap: Getting knocked out is a life
threatening injury. It involves inflicting a severe concussion on the victim. If
unconsciousness lasts for more than a few seconds (30 is the rule of thumb),
the victim will have, almost certainly, suffered severe, and irreparable, brain
damage. We also have a Knocked Out tag, if you started thinking about chloroform
or tranq guns.
(There’s also a “Concussion” tag. Oops.)

someone upside the head, and having them rendered instantly, and harmlessly,
insentient until the power of plot compels them to rise is a fantasy. As a
writer, it may seem to be a convenient one, but it’s just cheap.

It’s a
buyout, to allow your character to freely remove characters from the current
scene, without facing the normal consequences of attacking them. In this case,
in an act of, “heroism,” that wouldn’t work.

So, you
have your bad guys torching the place. You have your hero, there to stop them.
Again, that’s all fine. You have your, “hero,” attack an armored bystander,
rather than, telling them that the people
responsible for the blaze are still there?

Wait, what?

Your character’s
first response, when presented with someone who is doing their job, is to
resort to serious violence to, “protect,” them?

understand the impulse, but this, really,
is one of those times where heroism is about not resorting to violence to achieve your character’s goals.

You cannot
safely knock someone out.

character’s best option is to tell the firefighters that the guys responsible
are still in there, let the firefighters evacuate them, and send in SWAT. Even
failing that, immediately attacking a firefighter is, quite possibly, the worst
available option.


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