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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

PPE tampering: Horseplay can end in tragedy

It is never OK to make a firefighter's gear part of a prank

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: Chief Adam K. Thiel adds his perspective to the story about a firefighter who's boots were filled with water as part of a prank. 

This one is easy: whether intended as a "harmless" prank or (worse) deliberate harassment, sabotaging — and I use that word on purpose — a fellow firefighter's gear is just plain wrong.

I can honestly say that I was never big on firehouse hijinks, but everywhere I worked there was an unwritten rule that protective clothing and equipment was off limits.

We call it personal protective equipment for a reason: if it doesn't work, you can be killed or severely injured. What's the harm in a little water? How about blisters, steam burns, slips, trips and falls?

The work is dangerous enough without having to worry about our gear. As one of my first captains used to say, "horseplay don't pay; it starts in fun, but ends in tragedy."

It's also important to recognize that what might be intended as "good clean fun," can also be perceived as harassment; and the person on the receiving end gets to decide.

I know there are a lot of excuses for why these things happen in the fire and emergency services, but it seems to me that job-related training is a much better way to foster camaraderie, teamwork and competence — without putting anyone in danger or making them feel ostracized.

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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