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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Thieving firefighters cast a bad light on us all

Stories of firefighters gone wrong will be much more widely reported than those of firefighters upholding the public trust

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: Chief Adam K. Thiel warns us against the public-perception dangers regarding firefighter bad behavior and urges us to be vigilant in preventing such incidents. 

Earlier this week we saw a great example of how a single (with support from his crew and department) firefighter's actions can positively influence residents' understanding of, trust in, and hopefully support to their local fire departments.

Unfortunately, the converse is also true.

While we know there are literally thousands of examples of dedicated and selfless service by fire and EMS providers every day, they are not as likely to get reported as the infrequent, but highly publicized, examples of firefighters committing crimes that violate the public's trust.

The impact, positive or negative, of these stories extends well beyond the departments and communities where they occurred.

I've lost count of how many times a resident, local government employee, or other acquaintance has sent me a link or an email to a news story from across the country where a firefighter, or fire department, allegedly violated the public trust. (By the way, they rarely send positive examples.) The clear implication, of course, is that, "if it can happen there ... maybe it's happening here."

These unfortunate, and preventable, incidents cast us all — career and volunteer, public or private, and everything in-between — in a bad light.

So, what can we do about it?

Well, for starters, we can be vigilant in following proper management and accounting procedures, noticing "red flags" while they're yellow, screening employees and volunteers carefully, and dealing with behavioral health issues so our people can get help before they do something we'll all regret later.

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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Brian P Slattery Brian P Slattery Friday, January 25, 2013 7:53:46 AM As they say, a few bad apples spoil the bunch. It is a shame that the overwhelming majority of proud and honorable firefighters are tainted by the actions of so few. However, it is also telling that in some cases these dishonorable few are able to get away with things because others are too fearful to come forward when they become aware of what is going on. There is a disconnect in understanding that "brotherhood" does NOT mean staying silent and looking the other way when others are doing things that would bring disgrace on the profession (no matter how "silly" or "insignificant" it might seem to be). Law enforcement has slowly recognized this over the past decades, and is (albeit somewhat reluctantly) addressing their "bad apples" because they have seen how corruption and dishonor have cast an ugly (and undeserved) stain upon the masses who are decent and honorable.

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