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Rest in peace, Charleston 9

To honor the memory of our fallen brothers, we must learn whatever we can

Editor’s note: Chief Adam K. Thiel urges us to recommit ourselves to learning from the tragedies that have taken the lives of our firefighting brothers and sisters.

Years ago, I attended the funeral for the “Worcester 6" firefighters who tragically perished in the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire. At the time, I was certain that incident would be the largest multiple-firefighter LODD that would occur during my career. After all, even then our industry was focusing more on firefighter health and safety.

Unfortunately, the incredible tragedy in New York City on 9/11 and the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire proved my optimistic prediction wrong.

A few weeks after the Charleston incident, I visited the site to pay my respects for our fallen brothers — like so many others from around the country and the world.

At the time, I was struck by how “ordinary” the setting seemed; stores like that one can still be found across our nation, in cities and towns both large and small.

I wasn’t really surprised, I guess, since I’ve had the opportunity to visit many places where firefighters tragically perished in the line of duty: the Mary Pang warehouse in Seattle; the house on Bricelyn Street in Pittsburgh; Southwest Supermarket in Phoenix; the auto parts store in Chesapeake, Va.; and several others.

All of these buildings are (or were) fairly unremarkable, and the firefighters who committed to operating inside them did what they thought was right at the time. They didn’t have the benefit of hindsight — but we do.

As we remember our fallen comrades and pledge to never forget their sacrifices, let’s also recommit to honoring their memory by learning whatever we can from the tragic incidents where their lives were lost.

Rest in peace.

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.

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