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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

True confessions of a firefighter safety zealot

Take the time this week to talk about safety with your brother and sister firefighters

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: As we reach the midway point of this year's 2011 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week, our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel outlines the close calls over the years that led to changes in his own behaviors. Also be sure to also watch our exclusive training videos, as well as checking out the resources available at the IAFC's website.

I haven't always been this way. Over the course of my 20-year journey in the fire and emergency services, my perspective on safety, health, and survival has definitely changed.

Generally those changes have tracked along with positions of increasing responsibility, but like all of us I've also had my share of personal near-misses that altered my attitude and — more importantly — my behaviors.

My initial training was excellent, thorough, and very detail-oriented. I still can't stand seeing unbuckled SCBA waist straps and I practice tying knots every Sunday. Still, no amount of simulation could prepare me for my first "real" 3 a.m. structure fire.

Later, as I became an instructor, I was taught to use diesel fuel as a more realistic "simulant" for live-fire training. Bad idea. We did our best to keep control of these evolutions, but accelerants and acquired (or any other) structures don't mix.

I vividly remember diving through the front door of an old house and looking behind me as it flashed, thinking: "I hope nobody is in there." Behavior change.

Since I was a kid, I've always been good about seat belts and would never ride in a moving vehicle without one. As I began riding fire apparatus, however, I sometimes (albeit rarely) forgot about the immutable laws of physics.

One day while running with my crew at a local park, I was the last one to board the rig for a call. Acutely aware of this fact, I jumped aboard and yelled "go" before sitting down.

Next thing I knew I was hanging out the window as we took a sharp corner and barely grabbed a handle to pull myself back in. Behavior change.

During an early morning EMS call, my partner on the ambulance and I encountered a patient who was, let's say, rather "stout." We needed to get him down a narrow staircase to the waiting cot and knew it would be a challenge.

Instead of calling the engine company for help, as we didn't want to wake them up, we grabbed a chair and muscled the patient downstairs.

It was quickly evident this was a bad idea, even before my partner howled in pain while straining his back. Behavior change.

I could go on and on, as I've made plenty of mistakes. But I can say without hesitation that I learned from every one, and strive to help others learn from my past errors.

We don't all have to place ourselves at risk to (re)discover these obvious lessons. Take the time this week to talk about safety with your brother and sister firefighters.

Be real, learn from others, own your (own) mistakes, and commit to changing your behavior in the future.

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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