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Home>Topics>>FDIC General Session Ceremonies - Keynote Speaker Bill Gustin discusses issues facing today's Fire Service

FDIC General Session Ceremonies - Keynote Speaker Bill Gustin discusses issues facing today's Fire Service

Thu, 24 Mar 2011|



I'd like to do one thing. I'd like to give it up one more time for Skip and for Brian. Now we know the brains behind the secret list. [APPLAUSE] >> I don't think I've ever seen two more deserving guys for those awards. What a, what a beautiful ceremony and, wonderful gentlemen. That was fantastic. This is a great morning. Cause this morning, I've waited for this for several years. Over the past few years, I've been extremely fortunate to be allowed to visit with my friend Billy Gustin. After every, every visit I come away feeling better about the fire service, our nature and our future. Bill's not only a fire service icon. But he's the living embodiment of what it means when we say the phrase, walk the walk and talk the talk. Bill might be given a conference or lecture in Eden Prairie, Wisconsin on residential structural firefighting on a Saturday. During that lecture, he'll be recounting a residential structure fire that he had earlier that week. In his adopted home town of Metro Dade. Miami Dade, better get that right. Although he is a true Floridian, Bill never lost that Chicago big shoulder feeling or that friendliness. He meets every firefighter as a friend and he means it. And although a powerful and strong man Bill's never lost that wide eyed childhood innocence that makes a real firefighter a real leader. He never lost that sence of tremendous art at the responsibility that the fire service has to it's community and he's never taken his duties lightly. Whether he'll be commanding an engine company on the street or preparing to give a lecture in the community far away from his home. He gives us that same sense of dedication an seriousness. ...I've had the opportunity to travel with Bill and I see him prepared to share his knowledge he's gained over his nearly 40 year career in the fire service. And it's not unlike Bill to travel in a day or two advance, so that he can custom tailor his course specifically to the community that's invited him. Let me tell you a little bit more about Bill... Bill is a 38 year veteran of the fire service, and a Captain with the Miami Day Fire Department. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area. And he conducts fire fighting training programs throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. He's the lead instructor in the department's officer training program, and is a marine fire fighting instructor. He has conducted forcible entry training to local and federal law enforcement agencies and he's on our editorial advisory board of FDIC and fire engineering. But seriously Bill is more than just another editorial advisor board member, he is one of the most influential, significant editorial advisor board members that we've ever had. And he takes that duty extremely seriously. He's responsible in a large part for the quality of Fire Engineering magazine and the unparalleled depth and comprehensive nature of FDIC. Much of the content that you see in our books and videos is directly responsible from Bill Gaston. Ladies and gentlemen, it's my distinct honor to present to you our key noter for FDIC 2011 my good friend, Captain Bill Gustin. [NOISE] [MUSIC] [APPLAUSE] I would like to begin by addressing the younger members of the audience. From the looks of it, that would be just about everyone here compared to me. Every generation of old veteran firefighters passes the torch to a new generation of young firefighters. And tells the younger generation the same thing. you would never see the amount of fire, or had the much experience as we did in our day. That's what I was told when I became a volunteer fire fighter in 1973. And my dad, a 30, 33 year old veteran of the fire service was told the same thing in 1948. When he began his career with the Chicago Fire Department. Old guys like me like to brag about all the fires we taught, fought. We tell stories of the war years of the 70s and 80s. We do this because it lifts our fragile male egos at a time when just about everything else on our bodies is sagging. And we don't always tell the truth. I don't wanna say that some of us lie about our fire experience. We just tend to embellish it a bit. How many times have you heard an old timer say, I've got 30 years of experience in the fire service. No mister you may have 30 years on the fire department, but you only have three years of actual fire experience. The fire service that you young people are inheriting will be different from the one that I will retire in the forseeable future. The next generation of fire fighters will check, face challenges that their predecessors never faced. And consequently many of you will experience your own version of the war years. What are these challenges? The most significant challenge for you is that you are going to have to do your job with a fraction of the people that we have had in the past. Budget cutbacks and this hard economic times are decimating the ranks of career and volunteer fire departments and sadly. Sadly many of you will not have the support of the public that we use to have. Career firefighters have gone from hero to zero in the eyes of the public and my department has experienced this first had, just this last week. Why? Because they have become an easy target for hypocritical politicians and their cronies on Wall Street. Who are looking for somebody to shift the blame, for their own, fiscal mismanagement, that causes economic crisis. [APPLAUSE] And have turned the public against us. Throughout this country, firefighters are now to blame for the mess we are in. In my state of Florida firefighters wages have been cut substantially. And some of have been threatened by lay offs by cities who somehow managed. To find millions to form a new performing art center or a stadium that subsidizes a professional sports team with taxpayer's money. Just what we need, another performing art center. For what? So that rich people can watch ballet? I don't know about you but the idea of grown men prancing around in tights just doesn't sit well with me. Do you really think that cutting fire departments budgets is going to reduce the cost to taxpayers. I don't think so. I think that in many cities, any savings realized by cutting the budget of the Fire Department will be used by Politicians to finance their own pet projects and give-away programs to buy boats. Volunteer fire departments, which are one of our oldest and proudest American institutions are also feeling the budget crunch. I'm afraid that in too many communities the volunteer firefighter is an endangered species that is under appreciated and under funded by a public that largely takes them for granted until it is their house that's on fire. The same people that whine about high property taxes will be in shock. To see their property insurance rates go through the roof. Because there are no longer any volunteer fire fighters to protect their homes from fire. Or when they have to pay even higher property taxes to pay the salaries of career firefighters. As firefighters we take pride. In meeting new challenges. And often this means doing more with less. But as staffing of both volunteer and paid fire departments continues to diminish, there gets to be a point where we are gonna have to accept doing less with less. And unfortunately, that's gonna be the only way. For the public to realize that you get what you pay for and stop taking fire protection for granted. Please for a moment, I would like to speak directly to the young people in the volunteer fire service. By being a fire fighter, you've already set yourself apart from others in your generation. No matter what else you do with your life, you have already made a difference because you have made a commitment to protect the lives and property in your community. And it is not easy. I know it isn't. I've been there. You choose to participate in evening drills to improve your knowledge and skills after a full day's work. While many of your generation choose to sit at home, on a couch, eating Cheetos, and watching American Idol. So while you're making a difference in your communities, they're at home getting fat, and getting orange fingers. The next generation of firefighters will face new dangers as the construction industry continues to develop lightweight structural members that derive their strength from engineering, geometry and glue. Instead of the mass of conventional dimension lumber. Light weight trusses and I Joist for example are marvels of modern engineering. Except for one fundamental flaw. They fail and collapse just after a few minutes of fire involvement. You will be challenged to develop new tactics to fight fire in modern structures. There is no way that you can possibly fight fire with the same aggression and for the same duration in a home built today as you could in a home built 50 or 60 years ago. Some of the tactics that you must use to intelligently. Fight fire in modern engineered construction will be viewed by some older firefighters as aggressive. Not aggressive enough. And too defensive. But keep in mind that many of the firefighters who had criticized you have gained, or all their firefighting experience in older, conventionally constructed buildings. These veterans will probably never have to contend with fires, involving modular, prefabricated structures, green buildings, or struggle to ventilate a building with windows of impact resistant laminated glass. All challenges that you will face. You will also be challenged with the design of modern structures. Years ago we never had to deal with vaulted cathedral ceilings unless we were fighting a fire in a church, now it is the norm in most new residential developments. We preach how critical it is for fire fighters to pull ceiling at the front door if they suspect fire in the attic. Don't let fire get over your head or behind you. Well that's easier said than done when you enter the foyer of a modern house and the ceiling is 20 feet over your head. Over the years the proliferation of light weight engineered construction at petrochemical base synthetic materials has reduced the time for flash over and structural collapse and that time will only get less. Unless, during your careers. My message to the young folks in this audience is that you can be every bit as great as the generations of firefighters who have preceded you, because you can educate yourself. Granted, the number of fires in some communities is down. But that reduction. In the incidence of fire is often exaggerated by city administrators as a justification to cut fire department budgets. You will never prevent, sprinkler, smoke alarm, or public educate fires into extinction. And the fires you fight are likely to be more difficult and dangerous than in the past. Actual fire experience is valuable, there's no question about that. But experience in of itself is no longer sufficient to keep you and your brothers and sisters safe. And I don't care if you are on the busiest fire company in the world. You will never be able to derive enough knowledge through your own personal learn-while-you-burn experience. My dad used to tell me, Bill I know the firemen that go to two to three working fires a day. And there's some of the biggest dummies I know. Well, that's not exactly what he called them. But I think you get the idea. So you don't, you think you don't have enough fire experience. Well nobody does, regardless of how much time they have in this job. We all have more to learn, and we can never stop learning. If you ever reach a point in your career where you think enough about firefighting, then that's the day you need to hang it up. So how do you make up for a lack of experience and prepare yourselves for the challenges that you will face. You've already taken the first step by being students of the fire service otherwise you wouldn't be here right now. Every firefighter must be a life long student of the fire service. Not just the ones who expire to rise through the ranks. You can take great pride in being a master fire fighter, a master of your craft. But you still have to be, a student of the fire service. In order to do your job effectively and keep your brothers and sisters safe. The most respected guy in my firehouse holds the rank of firefighter. And he has earned that respect with his knowledge, skill and dedication to his profession. When I was a young firefighter I could not wait for the next fire. It wasn't that I wanted to see someone lose their property. I just wanted to put my knowledge and skills to the test. My dad used to tell me, Bill would you quite wishing for fires, you better be careful what you wish for young man, because your wishes may come true. And you'll find yourself going to fire you wish you never went to. Fire is we people are killed, fire is where children are terribly burned. Fires will, Fellow fire fighters lose there life. And he was right. You can't go to every fire, Nor would you want to because sooner or later someone is gonna get hurt, Let us learn from the experience and tragedies of fires that we were luck enough, not to go to. You don't have to have a LP tank blow up in your face, For you to recognize the signs of an impending blubby. You don't have to lose two of your friends in the roof collapse of a McDonald's for y ou to know there is an inherent danger with lightweight truss roofs on fast food restaurants. And you don't have to witness the death of nine firefighters when they are overwhelmed by fire in a furniture store in order for you to gain an understanding of fire behavior and the critical rate of flow. We could avoid line up duty deaths and career ending injuries by learning from the experience and tragedies of other fire fighters who have been there. We do this by attending conferences such as these, reading Fire Engineering and similar magazines and visiting their websites. We should study every fire fighter in death, in injury that is document in NYOSH reports. Every lesson that you learn from what went wrong at a fire you didn't go to is another bullet that you dodge. We must remain current with research that is being conducted on fire dynamics, ventilation, and the fire performance of lightweight structural assemblies. There is an abundance of information on these topics that is readily available from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and UL, Underwriter's Laboratories, on their websites. Now for a few things that irk me about today's fire service. [LAUGH]. I hope you brought your lunch. [LAUGH] I can't believe the amount of fire apparatus accidents that have occurred over the past few years. We've never had safer apparatus, but everybody supposedly enclosed and seat belted in. Up until the 1980s, it was common for firefighters to ride on the outside of apparatus and I can't remember firefighters falling off rigs in great numbers. So what's up with all the accidents? It can be explained in two words: excessive speed. You injure or kill a civilian with an apparatus and all the goodwill and public relations that your fire department has worked so hard to foster over the years is gone, even if it wasn't your fault. And if it is your fault, god help you. There are apparatus drivers and company officers who have been arrested and incarcerated on vehicular manslaughter charges. And have lost their jobs. And the misery doesn't end there. because criminal charges are only the beginning. Wait till the lawyers come after you for civil damages as well. We better stop this insanity right now. And slow down, and maneuver fire apparatus like the professionals we claim to be. In the last few years there have been a number of disturbing incidents where firefighters have been killed and seriously burned with a charged hose line in their hands. If we are going to aggressively fight fire from the interior of buildings, then we had better get water on the seat of the fire. ...This business of penciling the stream intermittently, against the ceiling will only delay a flash over. We can only eliminate the source of flash over by getting water and plenty of it on the fuel that is vaporizing the flammable fire gases that are burning over our heads. And if your interior attack... Is delayed because of the wind, lack of staffing, or the size or height of a fire building. Whatever the reason, then you better get that water on the fire any way you can. If that means that you have to direct streams from outside of the building, then that's what you'll have to do. I know of no fire that got worse by directing a straight or solid stream from the outside. Now I'm not advocating that we routinely fight fires from outside the structure. I am advocating that you have to consider what's worse,. Attacking a fire from the outside and allowing that fire to burn and burn and burn endangering more occupants and further weakening the structure or you attempt an interior attack that is delayed for whatever the reason. I'm not gonna stand up here and tell you that today's fire service has put too much emphasis on. Rapid intervention teams, truck company operations, and emergency medical service, I'm not going there. I will stand here and tell you that we have put too little emphasis on basic engine company operations. I don't care if a fire department is accredited. And its personnel have a stack of certifications. All that is just fluff that looks good on paper. If this fire department fails at its most basic mission, that is, stretching a hose line and operating out on a fire, we have only so much time that we can devote to training. And some of that time is already taken up by things like. Blood borne pathogens and EMS continuing education. Topics that in of themselves are important, but take away from the time we have to practice stretching and advancing hose lines upstairs, down hallways and around corners. And there's nothing glamorous about hose management drills. It's physically demanding grunt work that takes skill and teamwork. And it's definitely not as fun as practicing with your bailout harness, is it? While we're on the subject of bailout harnesses, the fire service devotes a considerable amount of its resources and training hours on rapid intervention team and firefighter survival skills. Like escape harnesses. These, in and of themselves, are great and can save firefighters lives if they should get themselves in trouble. There's no argument there. No argument but if we got water on the fire and we spend as much time teaching firefighters how not to get in trouble as we for when they are in trouble. A lot of them wouldn't have gotten themselves in trouble in the first place. When you deprive firefighters operating inside a fire building a basic firefighter function such as getting water on the fire. Backup hose lines and raising ladders for an alternate means of egress, you almost guarantee that you're gonna need a rapid intervention team or they're gonna bail out a window, whether they have a harness or not. So that's the state of today's fire service as I see it, and the challenges that we face. And it's all not negative. Today's firefighter has never been more protected, with their clothing and breathing apparatus. And yes, things like escape harnesses. And I am confident that tomorrow's firefighter will even be safer. Why? Technology is on our side. I never dreamed that we'd be able to look, see through smoke with a thermal imaging camera, or that I could look up into my mask of my SCBA to determine my air supply, and the SCBA or the future will even be lighter and safer than today. Research is on our side, thanks to the tests being conducted by. But most importantly, most importantly, information is on our side like never before. So we can learn how to avoid tragedies without having to experience them ourselves. Information that is readily available to us in fire service magazines, the internet and conferences like FDIC. Y'all were very lucky. We're all very lucky because we have chosen to be fire fighters and being a firefighter is both an honor and a privilege it is an honor to wear those turnouts and that uniform and call ourselves fire fighters. And as you and I look around this room right now. And I know so many of the people in the audience. It is truly a privilege to serve with some of the finest people that God has ever put on this earth. Thank you, and may God bless you and keep you safe. [APPLAUSE]

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