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Firefighter training can be as hazardous as the real thing

A recent NIOSH firefighter fatality report reemphasizes the hazards of firefighter training and the need for establishing appropriate resources beforehand

As we all support Firefighter Imker’s family and department during this difficult time, the findings in this NIOSH report underscore the fact that fire and emergency service training can be extremely hazardous and demands at least the same (if not greater) attention to safety as incident scene operations.

I remember, almost 20 years ago, participating in a very similar training class to this one; also held at a local volunteer (combination) fire department. The drill was over and everyone was picking up when I heard a loud yell from the top of an extended (reserve) aerial ladder.

In the rush and commotion for everyone to finish their nightly training and get home to their families, a member at the tip of the aerial had his foot crushed when the operator started to retract the ladder (the controls were unfamiliar since this was a seldom-used reserve vehicle).

Fortunately, the tip firefighter wasn’t permanently injured, but he needed surgery and was off work for awhile.

That experience, and several others, convinced me forever about the importance of providing a safe training environment. In 2003, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) released a special report titled: “Trends and Hazards of Firefighter Training.”

This NIOSH report (re)emphasizes a lot of these lessons, many of which are not new to the fire and emergency services. Unfortunately, too many firefighters are still killed or injured each year in training; and there’s just no reason for it.

Before your next drill or class, make sure you have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and resources to pull it off safely; if you have any doubts at all, cancel it!

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.