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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Firefighter's road rage video: Lessons learned

A Florida firefighter can be seen giving the middle finger to a motorist during a road rage incident

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: With a Florida firefighter being seen giving the middle finger to a motorist during a road rage incident in video recently made public, our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel gives his thoughts below.

I had to think hard before commenting on this story. Looking back on my almost 20 years in the fire and emergency services, I'm pretty sure I never "flipped off" a civilian driver for, well, doing what civilian drivers do when suddenly confronted by a (often speeding) multi-ton fire apparatus with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

I know I wanted to, on several occasions, but I'm almost certain (not 100 percent, maybe 99 percent) that I never did it.

It's not hard to become frustrated when surrounded by other drivers who, almost inconceivably, don't appear to notice our highly-visible fire and EMS apparatus responding to life-threatening (or not) emergencies in all weather conditions, 24/7/365.

But frankly, what do we expect? I'm not sure what I learned in driver's education classes when I was 15; and I don't know what people learn today about how to react when they encounter emergency vehicles on the roadway.

Several states have so-called "move over" laws, but the specifics across the breadth of the U.S. are widely varied.

I do know this: we are ALWAYS held to a higher standard of behavior and conduct than other drivers. Like it or not, people (and courts of law) expect their fire apparatus to be operated with "due regard" for the safety of others.

It's always important to drive defensively, but driving offensively is a prescription for trouble, if not disaster.

I know, the idea that we can creep through traffic is a fantasy in many communities, especially those with urban traffic characteristics and frequent traffic jams.

Still, we owe it to the public, and our fellow firefighters, to do our best; and most importantly, to do no harm. (That includes harming our collective reputation and goodwill by exercising behaviors that will get us plastered on social media websites as exemplars of sociopathic behavior.)

The best fire-EMS drivers with whom I rode, and I'm not one of them, had a calm, even-tempered, and completely unflappable demeanor.

Even on the notorious Capital Beltway (around Washington, DC) during rush hour, they never lost their cool and didn't do anything that might force another driver (or us) into harm's way. (Well, there was that time we went the wrong direction on the freeway during an ice storm, but that's a story for another day…)

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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