When citizens obstruct fire-rescue operations

It's critically important to know the scope, and limits, of your legal authority

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: Our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel gives his take below on the case of a 79- couple that faces several charges for allegedly not allowing emergency vehicles access to a driveway that led to a house with a gas leak.

Over the course of my career I've found the vast majority of citizens are quite helpful during emergencies. In fact, think about how many times you've encountered bystanders doing CPR on strangers, helping the driver/engineer pull supply lines down the street, or assisting their neighbors after a fire.

Sometimes, however, people get in the way, don't take direction, or — as alleged in this case — knowingly obstruct fire-rescue operations.

In these cases, it's critically important to know the scope, and limits, of your legal authority.

State and local laws generally provide fire officials with broad latitude to access private property under emergency conditions.

But the situation can become difficult, and potentially dangerous, when a property owner takes issue with the fire department.

Whether or not the law is on your side, never get into an altercation with someone asserting their property rights; you can still get into legal trouble, or worse.

As in this case, the best course of action is to quickly involve our law enforcement partners and let them handle the legalities while we concentrate on the strategy and tactics required to safely manage the incident.

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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