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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.

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Ian Shelton Ian Shelton Friday, September 07, 2012 7:25:44 PM Adam, I appreciate your strong leadership here. Your comments are fair but leave no doubt about the issue; lots of good learning points. Thanks and my best wishes to every American firefighter from 'Down Under' - Australia, where the wet stuff puts out the hot stuff just the same.
John Briggs John Briggs Monday, September 10, 2012 5:08:28 PM It's all fun and games 'til someone gets hurt.
Mark Normington Mark Normington Monday, September 10, 2012 7:26:25 PM I agree. I played many pranks in my 29 years in the fire service. However PPE was always off limits.
Kevin W. Berg Kevin W. Berg Monday, September 10, 2012 7:53:40 PM I am glad someone has brought this up I was one of many on the receiving of the pranks and believe me I was steamed over it.
Ian Shelton Ian Shelton Monday, September 10, 2012 9:13:20 PM ...and the ways people can be hurt can be complex. The fun may only be on the part of perpetrators. As has been discussed here and elsewhere, psychological and social harm can also be the result of harassment ...
Ian Shelton Ian Shelton Monday, September 10, 2012 9:35:04 PM Of course so many firefighters do 'get on with the job', because they are people of character and integrity. Good to hear your voice Kevin.
Ian Shelton Ian Shelton Monday, September 10, 2012 9:39:46 PM Of course, if we always revert to naming harassment as a prank, then the risk is it will be trivialised or worse, discounted. Although Chief Thiel has rightly focussed on the importance of respecting PPE for safety reasons, as I read it, he also reminds us that its the way the person on the receiving end sees it that tells us if its harassment. Twenty or 30 or 50 years of poor culture in some workplacs might take some courage to change. I'm glad to see you are up for supporting smarter ways to foster camaraderie Mark. Cheers.
Michael Ramsay Michael Ramsay Monday, September 10, 2012 9:59:17 PM this is why at our firehouse we save it till our chrismas party and make the new guys do karoke.
Michael Callow Michael Callow Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:37:18 PM Harmless pranks are all fine and well, but if it puts someone in danger, its not a prank and should be dealt with. Messing with some ones PPE is not only dangerous, it childish. You might as well cut someones seat belt, or tamper with their brakes on their car. Its foolish and wrong.
David Tidd David Tidd Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:41:03 PM I guess they didn't realize the boots steaming up in a fire could burn the firefighters legs.
Stephen Morrison Stephen Morrison Wednesday, September 12, 2012 6:31:34 PM I kept a twofoot club to smack the officer when I was engineer. He always thought it was fun to play with the switches on the dash ( code 3 even), turning off the jake, messing with the lights. He thought otherwise when I cracked his head and then told him to go cry to the chief. He knew he could not go there. He also had us following a ambulance, down a tree and brush covered trail, which ripped off tools and ruined the paint. Then he wanted to drive back down the same road to look for all the stuff that was pulled off. Handed him a flashlight , told him to watch out for the snakes, as I put the rig in park, set the brake.When Thank heavens , he was later fired for some of his other so called pranks, theft, lies etc. So called "raindeer games" do not belong in the fire service.
Jerry Montgomery Jerry Montgomery Friday, September 14, 2012 7:02:19 PM Amen!
Natalie Holder Natalie Holder Friday, February 08, 2013 8:18:35 AM What are some examples of tampering with protective gear?

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