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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

How are a blanket and a bandage different?

The issue of what can and cannot be given to the public is one that must be clear in each fire department

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: While the specifics of this incident may be a little murky, Chief Adam K. Thiel urges all fire departments to have a clear discussion about what can and cannot be given to the public.

I'm not entirely sure what to say about this story and the event(s) that kicked it off. I feel like there must be some additional explanation or reason for how this all unfolded.

Regardless of the specifics in this case, however, it provides a useful reminder to check your fire department's policies and procedures for supplying items, donated or purchased, to members of the public.

Everywhere that I've worked, there have been strict rules — generally stemming from state procurement laws/regulations — about the disposition of public property. Certain rules apply to items purchased with public funds, other rules to donated items and some rules are applied equally to both categories.

Now it's important to understand the intended purpose for laws and regulations about disposing of government property; the public policy rationale, of course, is to prevent private individuals from profiting at the public's expense.

Implementing the rules can be a real challenge, however, for public organizations (like fire departments) that operate at the intersection of the public and private realms. There's probably no question that using a 4x4 bandage, IV fluids, trauma dressings, etc. on a patient meets the intended public purpose for those items.

So why might a blanket be different; perhaps because it's not disposable? I don't know, but it's probably a good conversation for all of us to have in our respective departments.

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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Al Beardsley Al Beardsley Tuesday, October 16, 2012 4:07:07 AM I had the same thought also, there has to more, a story behind the story. For those reading my comments, don't misunderstand me. I'm not an unfeeling person but Chief Thiel makes a very good point regarding state procurement laws. The public demands our accountability for their tax dollars, but on the other hand, if it's their family that needs the "blanket", there is no cost or accountability. It's an extremely "confusing" world we now work and live in.
Nick Gavin Nick Gavin Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:59:10 AM The Blankets were donated to the department, most people or places that donate those types of items usually intend on them getting handed out to those in need. The items mentioned above (bandages, IV's, etc.) are being purchased for the purpose of patient treatment and carry a way to bill for said items. I can understand needing to keep an eye on what is given out but if the person needed a blanket give him a blanket don't worry about whose property it is.
Rick Picard Rick Picard Tuesday, October 16, 2012 10:29:30 AM It's a basic empowerment issue. Do you trust your employees to make the right decisions and back them when the do? If not - we tend to make lots of rules rather than dealing with the true issue; why don't they make good decisions? Just look at the PR value to giving away a blanket compared to the press DFD has gotten for NOT giving one away. It's because it was the right thing to do. DFD has a long history of problems, and their management is trying to fix them by making "rules".....Sorry, but this will always the result of that approach.
Lynette Jelinek Lynette Jelinek Tuesday, October 16, 2012 10:51:31 AM Sounds like they need a CR program :0)
Dave Bowman Dave Bowman Tuesday, October 16, 2012 12:24:58 PM WOW!, It's really all about Customer Service! Are we not try'n to help the public out in times of need? This is rediculous to have someone helping another out and be punished for doing his or hers Job!
Chip Gleason Chip Gleason Tuesday, October 16, 2012 5:20:03 PM Holy crap! How do these departrments get so far out of bounds of what should be their "core values" of assisting their citizens in need. That administration needs to take a long introspective look before they "punish" their employees for perfoming what's best for their community.
Michael Seneco Michael Seneco Sunday, October 21, 2012 10:08:09 AM I understand what the Chief is getting at in a broad view approach, but I think he at the same time makes the point that argues against the Detroit medic's suspension. Was the department property used in accordance with the public expectation? I believe it was. I don't know any department that launders blankets, sheets, and other patient-contact linens. At best, they are exchanged at hospital ER's for new sets... Even if the department got a complaint from a citizen that giving a cold, piratically naked elderly fire victim was improper, then it's time to focus on public education of what the fire service does, as opposed to suspending an employee for doing something compassionate...

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