Seeing is believing: Viral helmet cam video may change public opinion

Firefighter Scott Ziegler's year of helmet cam footage has great potential to narrow civilians' understanding gap about firefighting

Editor's note: Chief Adam K. Thiel congratulates Michigan firefighter Scott Ziegler for his incredible helmet-cam videos and offers several potential benefits that may come from the viral video.

If, as the old saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words," then Firefighter Scott Ziegler's viral helmet cam video must be the fire and emergency services equivalent of Tolstoy's "War and Peace."

Kudos to Firefighter Ziegler, his fire department, and his crew for allowing him to tell this story, It's a story that, in many cases, reflects the collective story of the U.S. fire service during the "aftermath" (and I put that term in quotes for a reason) of the Great Recession.

One of the most frequent questions — statements, actually — I get from residents is something like, "we don't have fires anymore, right?"

Even getting past that piece of misinformation, which we've sometimes helped along by not always accurately characterizing the relative risks, benefits, and frequencies of various incident types, leaves me trying to describe the interior structural firefighting environment to folks whose perceptions mostly date back to the Hollywood version in "Backdraft" or "Ladder 49." (Or even, for some, "Towering Inferno" with the legendary Steve McQueen.)

On several occasions we've experimented with using video shot during live-burn training exercises, but it's just not the same as the unscripted, unfiltered, and unbelievable (to many of those we serve) footage that Firefighter Ziegler captured during a year on his job in Highland Park, Mich.

There are lessons to be learned in this story. There is the power of conveying a simple message in a way that anyone can understand. There is the potential value of technology for helping to bridge — instead of expanding, as we sometimes see — the divide between "them" and "us;" and, of course, the potential impact that an ingenious firefighter, backed-up by a solid team, can make on those well beyond his firehouse walls.

Stay safe!

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