Firefighter Safety and Chasing Waterfalls

Chasing waterfalls was not only a term that was made famous in a popular song a while back; it is also a popular statement concerning dangerous behavior. It simply means that people who chase water downstream will eventually fall off the waterfall and...

A quick scan of recent documented incidents and published reports of fire service emergencies will show this axiom to be true; Firefighters have been killed and injured at seemingly innocuous and mundane events by inadequately assessing the risk of the situation and responding properly. (i.e. dumpster fires, electrocutions, falls, and lack of proper personal protective equipment) Firefighters have been killed and injured by assuming excessive risk in situations that are clearly losers. (i.e. operating in collapse zones, insufficient knowledge of building construction, inadequate risk/benefit analysis, and not conducting 360 degree size-ups) Firefighters have been killed and injured by not preparing and under-estimating the risk of such behavior. (i.e. heart attacks, strokes, poor driver training, and improper apparatus maintenance)

Far too many firefighters are killed and injured each year from chasing waterfalls. Most are strong, most are intelligent, and most did not respond to the changes that each incident presented and varied from the norm. This should not be. Regarding the African tragedy, the two surviving American kayakers, Korbulic and Stooksberry, spoke of Coetzee while on NBC's Today Show recently and they said that he was "just really loving how he was living his life - and the adventure it was taking him on." Echoing this joy for life Coetzee also wrote these words in his last blog entry; "We stood precariously on an unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day." Now, doesn't that sound like a firefighter talking?

Let's make 2011 a safe year and avoid chasing waterfalls!


  • "Kayakers recount deadly crocodile attack in Congo." By Jeff Barnard of The Associated Press. Dec. 21, 2010.

DAVID PETERSON, a Contributing Editor, is a 31-year veteran fire officer. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program and has a B.S. degree in fire service management from Southern Illinois University. David is also a graduate student in leadership with Grand Canyon University. View all of David's articles here. You can reach David by e-mail at