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Thieving firefighters cast a bad light on us all

Stories of firefighters gone wrong will be much more widely reported than those of firefighters upholding the public trust

Editor's note: Chief Adam K. Thiel warns us against the public-perception dangers regarding firefighter bad behavior and urges us to be vigilant in preventing such incidents. 

Earlier this week we saw a great example of how a single (with support from his crew and department) firefighter's actions can positively influence residents' understanding of, trust in, and hopefully support to their local fire departments.

Unfortunately, the converse is also true.

While we know there are literally thousands of examples of dedicated and selfless service by fire and EMS providers every day, they are not as likely to get reported as the infrequent, but highly publicized, examples of firefighters committing crimes that violate the public's trust.

The impact, positive or negative, of these stories extends well beyond the departments and communities where they occurred.

I've lost count of how many times a resident, local government employee, or other acquaintance has sent me a link or an email to a news story from across the country where a firefighter, or fire department, allegedly violated the public trust. (By the way, they rarely send positive examples.) The clear implication, of course, is that, "if it can happen there ... maybe it's happening here."

These unfortunate, and preventable, incidents cast us all — career and volunteer, public or private, and everything in-between — in a bad light.

So, what can we do about it?

Well, for starters, we can be vigilant in following proper management and accounting procedures, noticing "red flags" while they're yellow, screening employees and volunteers carefully, and dealing with behavioral health issues so our people can get help before they do something we'll all regret later.

Stay safe!

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