‘I wish I had given the post-fire aspect of my job as much attention as the extinguishment side’

Why we need to consider another incident priority: Helping fire victims post-fire


As I look back on my 40-plus years in the fire service, 25 of those as fire chief, I wish I had given the post-fire aspect of my job as much attention as I did the fire extinguishment side. What I mean by this is that we are very good at responding and putting the typical house fire out, packing up our apparatus and getting back in service. However, we then drive away at 3 a.m., leaving a devastated homeowner, who has no idea what the next step is, with an unsafe and fire-ravaged building.

As a member of the fire service, I believe it is my responsibility to not only educate the homeowner about the need to secure the building and how to protect their valuables, but to also protect others who may find their damaged property attractive – an attractive nuisance.

As public safety professionals, it is inconceivable to leave an emotionally distressed fire victim, who has no awareness of the risks to neighborhood kids or the legal obligations imposed upon them by the attractive nuisance doctrine and just drive off into the sunset.

As a member of the fire service, I believe it is my responsibility to not only educate the homeowner about the need to secure the building and how to protect their valuables, but to also protect others who may find their damaged property attractive – an attractive nuisance.
As a member of the fire service, I believe it is my responsibility to not only educate the homeowner about the need to secure the building and how to protect their valuables, but to also protect others who may find their damaged property attractive – an attractive nuisance. (Photo/Jack Parow)

Whether we delegate the responsibility to inform the property owner to another city department, such as the building department, at 3 a.m., or take the responsibility and adopt a department policy that delegates us to notify and educate the fire victim that their property must be made secure, something must be done.

I can honestly say it was not something I gave much thought to until after I retired, but I think, as public safety professionals, we have an obligation to make sure the homeowner secures the building to protect both themselves and the curious 12-year-old child who lives around the corner.

In “Strategic and Tactical Considerations on the Fireground,” Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Chief (ret.) James P. Smith shares three incident priorities: Life Safety, Incident Stabilization and Property Conservation. Property Conservation ends with “ventilation and minimizing water damage to reduce the total loss.”

I offer a fourth incident priority: Educate, Secure and Protect, which focuses on educating the homeowner, securing the property, and protecting the community from the hazards caused by the fire. It is not rocket science, rather a priority we should include in our customer service strategy and incident priorities.

We all know change is difficult in the fire service, so it might take a paradigm shift like this to involve ourselves in a post-fire realm, but why not finish the job we started and make sure the building is as safe and secure to the community as it was pre-fire?

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