Blizzard response highlights need for community education

Departments need to make it clear to the public what their capabilities and limitations are

I visited Chicago (my hometown) a couple weeks ago and walked along Lake Shore Drive from Soldier Field back into The Loop.

While Lake Michigan was already completely covered in ice, traffic whizzed by along the Second City's most scenic roadway.

Fast forward to February 2011 and I was amazed by the photos of stranded vehicles and stories of Chicago-area firefighters' many rescues of snowbound motorists.

Folks in Chicagoland are no strangers to winter weather (although Windy City refers to politics and not meteorology), but this one apparently caught more than a few of them by surprise.

As usual, the fire and emergency services bravely answered the call.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there was some public criticism levied against government officials for the blizzard response, once again illustrating the disconnect between what people think we can do, and our actual capabilities during a disaster event.

Whether you worry about snow, rain, hurricanes, earthquakes, or simply getting the trucks out the door to the next routine emergency call, it remains important to help educate your community about your department's capabilities and LIMITATIONS.

We are often lauded for our ability to do more with less, but sometimes our citizens can't see the link between public policy decisions (i.e., budget cuts and staffing reductions) and our capacity to deliver the range of services they expect in the street.

Here's hoping Punxsutawney Phil is right!

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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