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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Aerial failure: amazing that it doesn't happen more often

Incidents like this make us pause and reconsider how much risk we want to expose residents to at fun events

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: Because they are well engineered and safely operated, aerial units don't often fail. But that they do fail should make us carefully consider risk levels at pubic events, Chief Adam K. Thiel says.

First, I'm sure all of our readers join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to those affected by this incident.

Unfortunately, aerial ladder failures are nothing new in our business.

It's actually amazing that it doesn't happen more often, considering the physical forces involved in, quite literally, defying gravity under extreme conditions. The fact that catastrophic failures are newsworthy, given the frequency of aerial ladder operations, is a testament to the engineering that goes into modern fire apparatus, and the skills of well-trained firefighters.

Still, accidents can happen.

It's too early to know exactly what caused this failure. While investigations by the fire department, manufacturer, and state Department of Public Safety are all underway, it is likely to be awhile before we have a clear sense of what happened.

Regardless, this story made me think hard about things we take for granted while interacting with our communities under non-emergency conditions. Like many of you, I expect, I've been up in the bucket countless times with civilians during open houses and other events. I never really gave it a second thought.

We know, as trained professionals (career and volunteer), about the risks we face around fire apparatus, portable equipment and charged hoselines; that risk doesn't go away because it's supposed to be "fun" (versus a firefight).

With Fire Prevention Week just around the corner, maybe we should reconsider the level of risk to which we expose residents during community events. It's a tough call; what do you think?

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.

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