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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

The worst-case scenario

Does your department have a SOP/SOG for dumpster fires?

By Chief Adam K. Thiel
FireRescue1 Editorial Advisor

A report was released this week on a dumpster fire that killed St. Anna, Wis., Firefighter Steven Koeser last year. The tragic outcome of this incident reinforces the need to consider the worst-case scenario on every response.

WFRV News reported an explosion occurred from within the dumpster while crews attempted to subdue the flames with water and suppressant foam.

If we're really honest with ourselves, I expect many fire departments would address this apparent dumpster fire in similar fashion.

Why? Because over time we get conditioned to doing things a certain way, even if we know it's a risky approach, and getting the same results. (The technical term for this phenomenon is normalization of deviance.)

How many dumpster or vehicle fires have you been to where nothing bad happened? How many times have you been part of an aggressive interior attack on the inside of a dumpster to save, uh, trash? Come on, be honest...

I recently visited a major northeast fire department that had several pumpers outfitted with roof-mounted turrets to enhance their foam firefighting capabilities along the roadway.

I thought it was a great idea, even more so when one of the firefighters told me they were starting to use it on dumpster fires instead of placing themselves at risk for someone else's garbage. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Does your department have a SOP/SOG for dumpster fires involving unknown or hazardous materials? (Don't all dumpsters contain unknown — and potentially hazardous — materials, regardless of their location?)

Considering the circumstances in this incident, maybe we should just protect exposures (from a distance) and let dumpster fires burn themselves out? What's the downside; public perception?

Frankly, I think the average citizen would totally understand if we said we weren't going to place firefighters in harm's way to save their trash; I'd much rather have that conversation than trying to explain why mommy or daddy was killed to save someone's garbage.

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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