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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

What to do about the guy we make 'sick'

For firefighters, situational awareness extends beyond the fireground and into the public sphere

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: Chief Adam K. Thiel examines one grumpy neighbor's Internet video and considers what we can do to mitigate these situations.

We talk a lot about situational awareness (SA) in the fire and emergency services, usually in terms of incident scene operations. As this story demonstrates, however, we can also think about SA as we consider how we — as individuals, companies, crews, stations and departments — move around within the broader political, social and economic sphere of our communities.

While we, as firefighters, may not agree with this resident's perspective, it's important that we at least recognize, if not understand, his position.

It's fantastic that these firefighters are out training on a winter day, and I'm not familiar with the area so I don't know if there's another place they can safely perform these evolutions. I also believe it's critical to train in multiple locations so we can learn to effectively perform essential skills anytime, anywhere and under any conditions.

That said, clearly this particular location, at least from one neighbor's standpoint, was unsuitable. Did he ask the crew to move? We don't know. Should he have asked them to move before publicly lambasting them on an Internet video? That would certainly be nice, but I'm not sure we can, or should, always expect such courteous behavior from those we serve.

So the real question for all of us is two-fold: what would you have done in this situation if the resident had asked you to move; and what would you do now to mitigate the potentially negative consequences on public opinion if this was your crew or department?

Stay safe!
 

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.



Comments
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Larry Girard Larry Girard Wednesday, February 06, 2013 6:59:30 PM To an extent, he may have had a valid gripe - it's not hard to figure out where he is, and it appears he may well have been downwind from the platform. Some people are quite sensitive to Diesel fumes. That said, a simple request to the crew may well have been all it took for them to move. If he has never complained, the crews (and the fire department in general) may not be aware of the issue. The area (N 41.16757 W 73.16603) is lightly populated, and rather industrial in nature.
David Jobes David Jobes Wednesday, February 06, 2013 7:11:57 PM Great questions Chief Thiel. I would have hoped the complainant approach us, formally introduce himself and voice his concerns in a civil manner. I would introduce myself & crew, and inform him what we were doing and the goals we are trying to achieve. Also make him aware that the training chief approved the location for training purposes, but I would forward his concern to the training chief for the FD not to train in front of his residence anymore. Take his name, address, and phone number so he can be contacted later for a follow-up to make sure he's satisfied with the outcome. I would also leave a FD contact name & number with the complainant so he could voice any more concerns. I would thank him for coming forward with his complaint and assure him he is welcome to go to any firehouse or call the FD contact number for any questions he may have about our operations or the "fire service" in general! Next I would break down the training-op and contact the chief ASAP. I would also document a formal letter in full detail to the chief of what happened, and make sure every shift commander is notified so other platoons/companies don't show up for training at "said" location. Anyhow, I plan on presenting this to my crew on our next tour for training to see what kind of answers we come up with as a group! Thanks DJ
Richard Thompson Richard Thompson Wednesday, February 06, 2013 8:49:04 PM Firefighters aren't mind readers and typically no crew is out to offend their neighbors but the simple solution for the man with the camera and attitude was to have said something to the crew explaining his gripe in a considerate manner. I'd bet any amount of money the crew would have apologized and left as quickly as possible to another area. Plus, to avoid any other problems, more than likely they would have checked with any other nearby residents at the new location to avoid a similar result. Firefighters being firefighters are 99.9 % of the time good neighbors and citizens IMHO.
John R Eeten John R Eeten Wednesday, February 06, 2013 8:57:02 PM What we do at SHZHVFD is ask the neighbors about us doing any type of training in their neighborhood. In the past few years, we have had live burns, ran EVD classes in parking lots, have blocked traffic for hose evolutions, etc. The community will usually join us and depending on the weather, the residents / neighbors supply some refreshments, other than those supplied by us. This is our lead and take of controlling the situation before any misperception happens. This way, we also do secure areas for long term situational trainings. This particular of business works for us. Just another way of obtaining and maintaining a positive community environment, thus keeping these types of public complaining to face to face discussions, not Internet postings of rants against us. Stay Safe, Return Healthy and in one piece.
Friedrich VonDeitsch Friedrich VonDeitsch Thursday, February 07, 2013 9:21:30 AM People, Please try to understand we all need to be "kinder than necessary because everyone is fighting some kind of battle". These words were offered to me on Fathers day last year by my youngest daughter and it had great meaning for me. From his accent I would suspect he is from the New Jersey area. Have not the citizens of that part of the United States just gone through a serious natural disaster? Is it not a fact that many there are without even the basic necessities of life and our congress is picking it's hinder parts refusing to release funds for disaster aid for no better reason than to make our president look bad? When "authority" figures like the congress of the United States behave so irresponsibly it makes all who serve the public look bad. This will cause the most obedient and patriotic citizen to behave badly and lash out at anyone in "authority" like Firemen, Policemen and anyone else that has the "power" in a community. If you can muster the strength, try to have the "thick skin" I feel all of us must, and just refrain from taking this citizens comments personally. Hell, citizens are now shooting at us in different ares of our country! This video is just the way this citizen is screaming for help. I prefer his anger being manifest in this way rather that at gun point, don't you? You are all professionals... made of the "right stuff" and therefor should have nothing to say about this man. Remember this my Brothers and Sisters,... when you do something wrong, nobody ever forgets...when you do something right, nobody ever remembers. He and all like him will get past his pain but I truly feel all who suggested a group of Firefighters go down and confront him should do exactly that. And if you all are what I know you can be, you will offer these words: Hate me if you must,... forgive me if you can,... I can do no more than give an apology,.... and you have it. Show a fellow American who is suffering who I know you really are and be big enough to accept responsibility, apologize even though you have done nothing wrong, and loving enough to just accept the consequences because that is what Firefighters do. We are the "people friendly" public servants. A dam good honor to be labeled this way these days! We are the one's everyone is happy to see when we show up at an incident or just walking around town. Good stuff but we can loose this!, in a heart beat if we do not keep on earning the respect of society every day. Acceptance is the key! Thank you Chief Thiel for your level headed and educational response. We are all better for it. Be well and stay safe everyone. Fireman Fritz
Darrell Crawford Darrell Crawford Thursday, February 07, 2013 12:36:54 PM I disagree with you here Chief. We are not mind-readers. If the guy has not complained to the Company, the Fire Department in general, or the City about the training operations then there is no way to know that they are bothering the individual. If we do not know we are bothering you, then you have no valid complaint until we do.
Scott Rywolt Scott Rywolt Friday, February 08, 2013 6:05:02 AM That sounds like the perfect response to this type of situation. I especially like the fact that you would follow up with this citizen to make sure his complaint was addressed. You are a true professional.
Spartacus Jones Spartacus Jones Friday, February 08, 2013 5:28:23 PM Good post, Chief.
Spartacus Jones Spartacus Jones Friday, February 08, 2013 5:32:18 PM OUR solution can't be to ask somebody ELSE to act. If we're pro's we need to be pro-active. Just as preventing a fire is a whole lot better than fighting one, we can be circumspect and anticipate how our actions might effect people negatively, and take steps to mitigate that.
Darrell Crawford Darrell Crawford Friday, February 08, 2013 5:42:39 PM Do you know every moment of every day you are on shift that you didn't bother anyone with your activities? I do not think there is anyway you could possibly know. So you say proactive? Are we to go down every street in the area and ask if we can train somewhere? How many blocks would be enough? At the end of it all, would you even have time for training left?
Spartacus Jones Spartacus Jones Friday, February 08, 2013 6:09:36 PM If you're going to be doing a drill in someone's neighborhood, what's the down side of going out first and talking with those folks? Introduce yourself, let them know what's up, what you're doing and why, and apologize in advance for any inconvenience. You talk with people face to face, call them by name, shake hands, give them your card and say, " If you ever need us, we'll do our best to be there for you." Doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing to do, in my opinion.
Craig Hiser Craig Hiser Saturday, February 09, 2013 10:47:16 AM Easy fix, even if he comes over and is a bit loud in his assertion there is several things done to make him happy. First off, as a c/o go look at the situation. offer to test the co lovels and then ventilate his home. Fix the big problem yourself, then move on to reporting it to the powers that be to ensure there is a new place chosen. Isn't that why you became a company officer, you can make decisions?

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