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Amputee firefighters: Is your department ready?

With so many war veterans entering the work force, the fire service should expect to see more amputees applying and being hired

Editor’s note: Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at the inspiring story of Lt. Lettieri’s battle to get back on the fireground after losing his leg to a flesh-eating disease, and asks if our departments are ready to welcome firefighters such as Lt. Lettieri.

What an inspirational story for the holidays, or any other time for that matter.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hire a number of career firefighters over the years, all of them after a very rigorous selection process with multiple steps to assess their mental and physical readiness for the job. Career or volunteer, we know that interior structural firefighting can be a dangerous and unforgiving work environment.

While I know of several amputees who are serving in various fire departments, I’m sure we’re going to see many more applying to, and successfully competing for, positions in both volunteer and career departments. This is especially likely with thousands of returning veterans who have literally risked life and limb for our nation.

I hope we’ll see the day, at some point in the future, when stories like this one will be repeated across the United States. With continued advances in prosthetics and the bravery of firefighters like Lt. Lettieri, there’s no reason to believe that what we’ve seen in the past as physical “challenges” can’t instead be seen as opportunities for our departments to include an often-overlooked talent pool.

Until then, ask yourself what your department can do to be ready to help bring these brothers and sisters onboard.

Stay safe!

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. 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.