What departments can learn from safety hazard crackdown

In the absence of a known life hazard, why would we risk firefighters' lives in structures that nobody else cares about?

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: With Boston firefighters helping efforts to crack down on the safety hazards vacant and abandoned buildings present, our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel outlines how all departments can lessen the risks to their members.

The hazards that vacant and abandoned buildings present to firefighters are well known and extensively documented.

In the aftermath of the economic recession, and without aggressive intervention like that now under way in Boston, firefighters will likely be exposed to even more dangerous properties in communities across the United States.

This article contains some key points relevant to all fire departments.

First is the importance of collaboration between fire departments and allied agencies, such as building and zoning departments, to proactively identify derelict properties and take steps to force mitigation of hazardous conditions.

The ability of local governments to enforce property maintenance and related codes that directly affect firefighter safety are linked to proper staffing with building, fire, and zoning inspectors.

The Boston Fire Department's policy of clearly marking dangerous properties and prohibiting entry by firefighters is one that is being implemented by a number of fire departments nationwide.

I know some firefighters believe every building should be searched just in case. But really, in the absence of a known life hazard, why would we risk firefighters' lives in structures that nobody else cares about?

Too many of our brothers and sisters have been killed in vacant or abandoned buildings over the years; with the increase in the number of these properties, we must reconsider our approach.

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) recently published a report on fires in vacant residential buildings; it's worth a read at www.usfa.dhs.gov/media/press/2010releases/081910.shtm

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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