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5 things we learned in 2010

I expect this past year won’t be the last time we see these five themes expressed on FireRescue1

When I think back over the past year, it’s fairly easy to identify several key themes across the many stories highlighted on FireRescue1 in 2010.

Expect the unexpected
It’s something we’re all taught early in our careers, but it’s often too easy to become complacent during routine responses — and complacency kills.

From reports into dumpster fires involving hazardous materials to distracted drivers along the roadways and terrorist attacks masquerading as vehicle fires, we can never let down our guard.

Prevention saves lives
I lost count this year of the numerous stories describing the tragic, and needless, deaths of so many civilians, and our firefighter comrades. The United States still has a fire problem that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of our communities.

As a service, we cannot protect them (and ourselves) through reactive (i.e., response) measures alone. While the seemingly endless debate about the value of engineering, education, and enforcement rages on, people continue dying in fires that are absolutely preventable! Check out the National Fire Protection Association’s Faces of Fire website if you don’t get it yet.

Saving our own
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much new on this front. Once again in 2010 we had to re-learn the lessons of the past as too many of our brother and sister firefighters were killed or injured in the line of duty.

Beyond even those tragedies, we were reminded of the long-term behavioral health consequences of being exposed to things nobody should experience without skilled professional support.

There’s no secret formula here; be sure to review the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Everyone Goes Home website as one of your New Year’s resolutions.

We cannot stand alone
The importance of collaboration across disciplines and jurisdictions was repeated in many stories. From neighboring fire departments’ mutual-aid responses and law enforcement officers assisting with extinguishing vehicle fires (remember that one?), to the value of the work done by federal agencies with fire protection as part of their mission, we cannot forget that the fire service is inextricably linked with our partners in EMS, law enforcement, emergency management, public health, building code administration, and many others.

While the “Great Recession” might be officially over, many fire departments — career and volunteer — are struggling to deliver basic services to their communities, or even just to survive.

The public policy dialogue about fire protection, and who pays for it, suffers from our difficulty explaining — in rational economic terms — the value of what we provide, and what it costs to do (or not do) it.

That challenge will persist in 2011. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has a website devoted to helping fire departments weather the economic crisis.

I expect 2010 won’t be the last time we see these five themes expressed across the breadth and depth of FireRescue1’s coverage; so be safe and stay tuned!

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. 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.