"There are times in life when you make responsible decisions and you just kind of have to live with being misunderstood," said Mark Ekstrum, the Tuscon firefighter who achieved Internet infamy today after the Arizona Daily Star reported that Ekstrum refused to go to the scene of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's shooting because of "political bantering" in the firehouse. Soon, of course, the story became about how a firefighter was a partisan monster who wouldn't help a Democrat. Headlines included "Fireman refused to attend Giffords shooting spree because of 'her political views'" and "Tucson firefighter went home rather than respond to shooting scene."
The original report in the Daily Star suggests a more nuanced, and confusing, tale. And so we called Ekstrum, who has since retired from the fire department, at his Tucson home for clarification. He wasn't much help. We asked Ekstrum to describe his political beliefs and he declined. "Every person that reads the internet, every citizen... they may misunderstand, they may feel strongly about it, may want to know more facts. There's nothing that I can do about all that," he said.
In a statement to the Arizona Star, he said he voted for Giffords and that when he met her, he considered her "a person that was willing to listen." Ekstrum hasn't donated to any national or state political campaigns, according to a search of campaign finance databases. He's currently registered to vote as an independent; in the 1980s and 1990s he was registered as a Democrat.
When the crew came back from the call, Ekstrum was waiting, and apologized. Ekstrum sent a statement to the department saying he'd been "distracted to the point of not being able to perform my routine station duties to such an extent that I seriously doubted my ability to focus on an emergency call. ... [M]y communication centered more on how this event would affect the country and them and us, and, of course, led to their misunderstanding about my need to go home because I was at a point of distraction." The next day, according to the report, Ekstrum realized he made a mistake and retired.