Health & Safety

FDIC International 2018 Q & A: Gavin Horn

Gavin Horn

FDIC Conference Director Diane Rothschild recently spoke with Gavin Horn, Director of Research, Illinois Fire Service Institute, who is a keynote speaker at the FDIC 2018 General Session on “Wilb’s Fix-It Shop,” about the whole FDIC “experience.”

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DR:  How long have you been teaching/attending FDIC International?

GH:  I have been attending FDIC for 13 years. My first opportunity to teach at FDIC was in 2013 with Denise Smith and Craig Haigh in a class focusing on Firefighter Rehab.

DR:  How did you get into instructing in general?

GH: I am fortunate to work at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, which is the state training academy for Illinois. So, translating our research to usable information for the fire service is part of my job. However, I first got in to teaching while in mechanical engineering grad school. I was teaching a class on material science that many felt had little realistic applicability, but with my background as a mechanic, I was able to help the students relate the information to real-world problems. Learning that skill is critical to what we do now in attempting to teach relatively complex material to such a broad audience as the fire service.

DR:  What sets your experience at FDIC apart from attending other conferences?

GH:  The sheer size of the event–not just in how big the expo is but also how many classes that are available and how many different opinions, viewpoints, tactics, and techniques you can learn each day. You can focus on one topic but find many different classes that you can learn about a slightly different aspect.

DR:  What was your reaction to being selected to speak on the Main Program?

GH:  Humbled. It’s an incredible honor, one of the highlights of my career to this point.

DR:  What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the fire service today and why?

GH:  I think the most pressing issue is really the overall magnitude of all the issues facing the fire service today. Our job is changing constantly as we take on more responsibilities and as the world around us continues to change. At the same time, many of the traditional challenges remain. These increasing demands for service are combined with an increased understanding of the risks firefighter’s face from thermal exposures to chemical exposures to traumatic stress exposures … yet resources remain tight.

DR:  What is your “takeaway” from a week at FDIC?

GH:  It’s always great to reconnect with so many friends from across the country and return home with new insights and renewed excitement.

DR:  Who are your FDIC role models and why?

GH:  There are so many that it would be impossible to name them all, but the first two to jump to mind are Denise Smith and Pete Van Dorpe. Denise Smith is the first person to introduce me to FDIC and help me really understand the critical role this conference plays in the U.S. fire service. She invited me to team teach a class with her and helped me to see how much the fire service values science and research. Pete Van Dorpe is also one of those people who teaches with such passion and energy on a range of complex topics who I have always appreciated and learned from … in many ways how to teach. 

DR:  What advice do you have for first-time attendees?

GH:  Take advantage of all the different perspectives you have available to you. Obviously, you can see just about every major manufacturer of apparatus or turnout gear or SCBA so you can compare relative benefits and ask questions of the experts. But you can also do the same with the knowledge in the classroom sessions. If you are interested in a topic, go to multiple classes and get all the different perspectives…particularly if you may not completely understand or agree with the instructor’s perspective. The chance to ask questions and learn about new or different strategies, tactics, and techniques is just as important as the new technologies.

Keynote Speaker Presentation: Thursday, August 26, 2018, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m., Indiana Convention Center, Sagamore Ballroom 1-7.

“Wilb’s Fix-It Shop”

Each of us has a unique path in the fire service–something that introduced us to this greatest of jobs and got us hooked. While some are born into the job, many of us are inspired by the events of a certain day or a seemingly magical place that caught our attention as a youngster and set us on the path to where we are today.

Gavin Horn has served as the director for the Illinois Fire Service Institute research program, a department within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, since 2004. In that same year, he received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The research studies focus on firefighter health and safety, first responder technology development, and material testing. He is also a firefighter/engineer with the Savoy (IL) Fire Department.