The 'unseen' dangers you should look out for

When was the last time you attended a refresher class with your local water, power, or gas utility company?

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: Our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel gives his thoughts below on the natural gas explosion Monday that injured eight firefighters in New Jersey.

I'm glad to hear that the Pennsauken, N.J., firefighters injured in this event have almost all been released from the hospital with only minor injuries.

Over the past few weeks, we've seen multiple stories about firefighters injured (or nearly so) by "routine" hazards such as downed electrical wires and, in this case, a natural gas explosion after a structure fire.

These are all good reminders that unseen dangers (i.e., electrical fields and colorless gases) are always present on the scene of any fire or emergency incident.

While most firefighters have (hopefully) received training on recognizing and addressing utility-related hazards, when was the last time you attended a refresher class with your local water, power, or gas utility company?

Many of these firms will send trainers out to your department and it's also helpful to develop a rapport with the utility service workers who show up at our incidents.

Notwithstanding the importance of continual training and waiting (when possible) for utility service disconnection, there will always be times when we must operate adjacent to charged electrical systems (including now in electric vehicles) and in the presence of toxic or combustible gases.

As with any other incident, this is why it's always vital to wear full structural firefighter protective clothing (SFPC), and usually SCBA, to provide maximum protection against the hazards encountered on emergency incidents; both seen and unseen.

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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