The life of an emergency responder is a balance between the ordinary trials, tribulations and minutia of ordinary life and the hyper-excited response to an emergency. A normal shift for a firefighter or paramedic is typically anything but. There are the routine tasks – training and checking equipment – and then there are emergencies.

Most can’t empathize with what an emergency responder must process in the few moments between receiving an alarm and arriving at a scene. Whether an address is on the right-hand side of the street or the left, where the closest fire hydrant is, the likelihood that a home is occupied – these are just a few of the questions that a firefighter’s brain will try to answer, usually while simply walking toward the fire truck.

First responders are humans who can make mistakes. It’s embarrassing for any fire department to suffer a fire at one of their own facilities. While the mental strain that occurs whenever an alarm is sounded might explain leaving a stove unattended, it is not an excuse. For that, the Portland Fire Department will act as appropriate.

What we should all learn from the department’s error is that fire does not discriminate: Anyone can be a victim. I am glad the department is making this a teachable moment while accepting the responsibility for human error.

The week of Oct. 8 will once again mark activities at fire stations nationwide for the National Fire Protection Administration’s annual Fire Prevention Week. Use the lessons learned by the Portland Fire Department as inspiration to make your own home safer. Ensure that your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have new batteries. Review your fire escape plan. Talk to your children about cooking safety. Visit a local Fire Prevention Week event for more safety tips and use this lesson to plan to be safe.

Philip Selberg


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