FDIC International 2016 Interview: Peter Van Dorpe

Pete Van Dorpe

FDIC Conference Director Diane Rothschild recently spoke with Peter Van Dorpe, chief of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills (IL) Fire Protection District, who is the recipient of the 2016 Fire Engineering/ISFSI George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award at the FDIC 2016 General Session, about the whole FDIC “experience.”

DR: What does receiving this award mean to you? What is its significance?

PVD: I consider it a great privilege to be given the opportunity to accept the Post award on behalf of all those firefighters, officers, and especially the fire service instructors who had such a profound influence on the success of my career. The fire service is one of those unique professions where the concepts teamwork, brotherhood, duty, and honor actually have the weight and import they deserve. We know intuitively that we cannot succeed alone. We rely explicitly on those beside us and those who came before us. I believe the significance of the existence of the Post award is its express acknowledgment of the importance of a lifetime commitment to learning in the fire service. We simply cannot ever know enough about our profession. We all must rise to this challenge. We are all instructors. Accepting that is part of our obligation to each other and the service.

DR: How long have you been teaching in the fire service? How did you get into instructing?

PVD: I participated as an instructor of a recruit class for the first time in November 1988.  The Chicago (IL) Fire Department (CFD) needed to get two classes of candidates through the recruit academy ASAP. They decided to run a “day class” and a “night class” and were short of instructors. Then Director of Training Andy O’Donnell took a chance on me and a group of my peers. Under his guidance and tutelage, we did reasonably well. (Ours was the first CFD candidate class to have a 100 percent pass rate on the first attempt at the State Firefighter Certification.) I have been instructing off and on since then.

DR: What do you look forward to at FDIC?

PVD: Mecca. Everyone needs to make this pilgrimage at least once. Your fire service career is not complete without it. After your second time, you are hooked. There are dozens of “things” that are worth your time and effort here at FDIC, but the real value is in the overall experience. This is where I come to recharge my batteries, get my mojo back, and recommit myself to my oath and my promise to serve. If you come here and aren’t inspired to be a better firefighter, public servant, and all-around better person, you really should find yourself another line of work.

DR: What message would you like to give to a first-time attendee or to someone who has never been to FDIC?

PVD: It’s always the same: Take classes that make you uncomfortable, that take you out of your comfort zone. If you come here to listen to someone affirm your firmly held convictions, you are wasting their time and your money. Education is about challenge, it’s about risk, it’s about new and different, and it’s about change. The same goes for your time on the show floor. Yes, they are salespeople, but they are also subject matter experts. Use them to learn about tools, equipment, software, etc. that you normally wouldn’t pay attention to.

DR: What do you think is the most pressing issue in the fire service, and what can be done about it?

PVD: We need to become a true profession. (This has nothing to do with paid, volunteer, etc.). Doctors, lawyers, nurses, pilots, tradesmen, realtors, even beauticians for goodness sake–all operate and practice their professions in accordance with regional influences and local requirements yet still subject themselves to nationally recognized minimum standards, guidelines, and procedures. Professionals (largely) self-regulate; self-certify; self-enforce; and, most importantly, self-define just what their profession is. They are permitted to do so only to the extent that they adopt and adhere to standards that the community they serve believe to be safe and effective. The more we continue to insist that our regional differences mean that “that doesn’t apply to me,” the more we will see outside agencies, organizations, and governments dictating policies and procedures to us.  Look around you. It is already happening. Let me be more explicit: We can either embrace ideas like NFPA 1700 and take control of them or wait for others to take control of us.

Van Dorpe’s Challenge to Fire Service Members: “Become a ‘Giant'”

General Session Award Presentation

Thursday, April 21, 2016

8:00 am-10:00 am

Sagamore Ballroom

Indiana Convention Center


Peter Van Dorpe is the recipient of the 2016 Fire Engineering/ISFSI George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award. He is chief of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills (IL) Fire Protection District.

He recently retired as director of the Chicago (IL) Fire Department’s Training Division after a 33-year career there. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science management from Southern Illinois University. He has made presentations on modern fireground challenges at FDIC and the National Fire Academy. In 2012, he delivered the General Session Keynote at FDIC and addressed the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the “Effectiveness of Furniture Flammability Standards and Flame Retardant Chemicals.”

In addition to his work as a field instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute, he has been a lead instructor for the Chicago Fire Department’s Fire Officer School and has taught building construction for the fire service through the City Colleges of Chicago. He is a member of the Advisory Board for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Firefighter Safety Research Institute.

He has recently participated as a subject matter expert for UL’s research on “Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber In Fire Conditions,” the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s “Evaluating Firefighting Tactics Under Wind Driven Conditions,” the IAFF/NIST “Firefighter Safety and Deployment Study” in high-rise buildings, and the NIOSH investigation into the line-of-duty deaths of two Boston firefighters that occurred on March 26, 2014.

Steve Pegram, president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, says about the selection committee’s unanimous choice of Van Dorpe: “Chief Van Dorpe has a distinguished career leading the training department of the Chicago Fire Department and is currently one of the most sought-after instructors in the country as a champion of the Principles of Modern Fire Attack.  Chief Van Dorpe has barreled through barriers with urban departments to move the message forward and his service to the UL Advisory Board has guided the research and message to create a global impact.  He takes the science and is instrumental in curriculum development to ensure the lesson is delivered successfully from lab to fireground. Chief Van Dorpe’s passion for his own continued learning experience transcends generations, and he is an impactful mentor to firefighters young and old.  Because of Chief Van Dorpe’s unwavering dedication to the instruction of firefighters everywhere, we proudly present him with the George D Post Instructor of the Year Award.”

The award, which incorporates the Training Achievement Award previously given by Fire Engineering at the FDIC, is named for George D. Post, who was a long-time member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Post was a member of the Fire Department of New York, an illustrator of fire service publications, and a developer of instructional materials and is considered by many to be the father of visual training material used to train fire service personnel around the world.

Fire Engineering/George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award Recipients:

Peter Van Dorpe (2016)

Eddie Buchanan (2015)

Stephen Kerber (2014)

Mark Emery (2013)

Anthony Avillo (2012)

Brian Kazmierzak (2011)

Robert J. Colameta (2010)

Dan Madrzykowski (2009)


Tom Brennan Training Achievement Award Recipients:

The Seattle Guys (2008)

Jim McCormack (2007)

Don Abbott (2006)

Mark Butler (2005)

Tracy Raynor (2004)

Scott Millsap (2003)

Andy Fredericks (2002)

John Salka (2001)

Ed Brown (2000)

Mike Lombardo (1999)