Webster shooting tragedy and how the public sees firefighters

Among the lessons from West Webster, N.Y. is how those unaffiliated with emergency response view our profession

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: As Chief Adam K. Thiel mourns the loss of the West Webster firefighters gunned down on Christmas Eve, he examines how those in not affiliated with emergency response view the situation and first responders.

Like many of you I'm sure, for me the senseless Christmas Eve shootings in West Webster, N.Y. put a real damper on what was already a tragic holiday season after the horrific incident in Newtown, Conn. As I watched the funeral coverage last weekend for our fallen brothers in New York, my heart went out again to their families and departments.

Ever since this happened, I've been thinking — along with many others in the fire and emergency services — about how my department, and our law enforcement colleagues, would handle a similar event.

A week later, as details continue emerging about the shooter and his unwitting accomplices, it remains apparent that there's nothing the responding firefighters and law enforcement officers could have done to identify and mitigate the incident before the first shot was fired. Moreover, their cool-headed response (if you haven't yet listened to the responders' radio traffic, it's an absolute must) and teamwork in a terrible situation was absolutely awe-inspiring and represents a positive example for all of us.

What's been really interesting for me over the past week is listening to the perspectives of ordinary civilians and acquaintances.

One person was astonished that firefighters and law enforcement officers continued their response after the shooting started. Another asked me why firefighters would respond to a reported fire before the police. Still another actually told me that, "That would never happen in our city."

Once again, these interactions reinforced my belief that most people have absolutely no idea what we do, how we do it, or the fact that "bad things" (an understatement in this case) can happen anywhere, at any time, and career and volunteer firefighters will always be among the first on the scene.

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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