class notes: top five

Five things NOT to do when your residence is ablaze

Sean Wilkinson, BA ’08, PMCert ’09, Volunteer Firefighter

A illustration of a firefighter and a puppy dressed as a baby.

Illustration by Barry Fitzgerald, MFA ’90

Interview by Rebecca Rudell

Sean Wilkinson is the kind of person you want around in an emergency. He has worked for MASH Urgent Care and as a police dispatcher, has EMT training, and has volunteered with the Snyder Fire Department since 2005 as both a firefighter and, for a time, as a fire captain (which means he taught firefighters skills like vehicle extrication, rope rescue and how to drive fire trucks). Like most volunteer firefighters, Wilkinson has a full-time job—he works as a lot manager for wholesale car auctions—but his passion is fighting fires and helping other firefighters to do it better.

Wilkinson writes articles about safe firefighting practices for websites like and, and also continues to train firefighters in person. The teaching certificate he attained from UB after getting his BA has been invaluable in his training sessions. “It taught me how to incorporate different types of learning—visual, auditory, tactile—to reach firefighters more effectively,” he says.

With his wealth of experience putting out fires, Wilkinson has witnessed his share of, shall we say, counterproductive behavior from homeowners. We asked him for the top five things people have a tendency to do in a fire that they absolutely should not.

Go back in
This one should be pretty obvious, but unfortunately, it happens. Things change quickly in a fire. Even if it didn’t seem bad when you left, just minutes later your house could be filled with smoke or toxic fumes.

Lie about how it started
Be completely honest if you know how the fire started. When we know the cause, we can fight it more effectively. We’re not there to judge you—we’re there to help you.

Hide under the bed
Move as close as you can to where you can be rescued more easily. Children tend to hide in closets or under beds. Tell them to move toward doors and windows so we can find and extricate them easily.

Pretend your dog is a baby We know you love them like family, but saving pets requires a different mindset and tactics than saving an infant. We will do everything we can to rescue Fifi, but animals and humans behave differently in fires and we need to know how to prepare.

Second-guess firefighters
There may be circumstances that require us to do things a certain way that you may not be aware of. We understand how stressful a fire can be, but please trust that we are doing the best job possible while keeping your family and our crew safe.