Stay alert for unexpected hazards

Situational awareness is key to recognizing and anticipating hazardous situations

Editor’s Note:

Editor's Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel discusses how staying alert can warn you of unexpected hazards such as medical oxygen.

We all know that hazardous materials can be found in many situations that firefighters face every day.

While we don't always think of medical oxygen as a "hazmat" in residential settings, like any gas in a pressurized cylinder it can be dangerous when exposed to high heat. Furthermore, as an oxidizer it can enhance combustion and potentially increase the severity of a fire started elsewhere, as suspected in this case.

What's the point?

As with any incident, it's important to develop and maintain situational awareness by noticing conditions or clues that might signal the possibility of hazards beyond the expected. Also, remember that your situational awareness begins with area familiarization and pre-incident planning.

Paying attention to your surroundings during EMS calls, while going to the grocery store, or doing courtesy inspections can really pay off in a 3 a.m. structure fire.

So ... as a wise fire captain once told me, "keep your head on a swivel" and 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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