FDIC: REENERGIZING LEADERSHIP IN THE PURSUIT OF FIRE SERVICE EXCELLENCE
Editor`s note: Following are excerpts from speeches delivered at the 1997 Fire Department Instructors Conference Main Program this past April. These important words from fire service leaders focus our attention on matters that deeply affect fire departments across the nation and give you just a taste (remembering that 1997 FDIC was a six-day networking vehicle of 150 classroom sessions, interactive sessions, full-scale hands-on training sessions, 600-plus exhibits, etc.) of what the conference is all about. Hopefully, the force behind these words will reenergize you in your pursuit of excellence in your fire service endeavors.
Former Chief, Waterbury (CT) Fire Department
Volunteer, paid, federal, industrial–we`re all the same. There is no difference. We have to drop the myths that perpetuate this difference. Otherwise we`ll never be able to talk to each other U.
We weren`t any different in New York City. We just had the wonderful opportunity to do the same stupid thing over and over until we did it right. I find a real commonality in brotherhood–sisterhood, now. The bond of saving human life was an easy bond to pick up if we were talking to each other as fire service personnel, but what bound us all together was the total exhaustion of great, great, great human beings continuously trying to do more and more with less and less. I saw supplies dwindle; money ran out. And the “nitwitcy” of the devastating costs of lower manning is insane. We`re killing the same number of firefighters as we did in Keith Royer`s time. And we`re going to fewer fires. We have firefighters burned up so horribly–that never happened before. The old days were a little terrible, looking at it from today. We went to fires with baloney skins, but we still didn`t have the serious burns we have todayU.
If you look at these injuries and deaths and you study fireground trauma [statistics]–excluding the 50 percent who die from overexertion/heat stress and the 22 percent who run into things–you find basics is killing us. The lack of basics is killing us. You are the basic changer of this fire service. Return to the basics.
We`ve been told by some forward-thinking people who never seem to go to fires that we have to abandon basics for innovation. Abandon tradition for innovation. Tradition is hanging around our necks like a millstone. About 14 years ago, I went to California [to visit friends], and they said that to me, and I said, “How do you know how to innovate if you don`t know the tradition you`re innovating?” “Hmm,” they said U.
The problems are defined readily in disastrous operations that we face, too costly and too vast to memorize or bring up here U. But as I look back on my career in New York City, the study of just our own selves U we were killing 10 to 15 firefighters a year. We were going to funerals all the time. We have a plaque there, a wall, really. It`s etched with 759 names of firefighters killed in New York City since they were able to keep records U. A New York City cellar fire, we lose 12. Lack of preplan, lack of communication, lack of coordination, and certainly lack of control. Ten years later, we lose six in Waldbaums. Actually 22 fell through the roof, and six hung up in the rafters and burned to death. Again, lack of communication, lack of preplan on the roof and truss assemblies, and lack of coordination and control, because if you work for me and you have 22 people on the roof, 17 are not doing their job. What happened to 10 years? Same lessons, same errors, same costs. Recently New York City has turned the corner on wonderful leadership and tremendous analysis of recent firefighter deaths, and I beg you as instructors to write to your friends in that city and get copies of those reports and see how open and pointed they are, and use them as models of how you report what happens at your fires. Again, firefighter death, no water for 40 minutes at an inner-city high-rise apartment house. Ineffective vertical ventilation causes an incineration effect on the second floor of a three-story building. Three firefighters incinerated. Abandoning search tactics and getting lost in fire buildings.
We have these pressures attacking us from inside and outside. Some of it is not our fault. But we can control it if we return to what we are supposed to be in this place, the fire service leadership. Codes and laws and standards and mandates are increasing the depth of our commitment and responsibility, but no one is giving us money. Final rules come out that are never final. How many final 1500s are we going to look at before we get it? Standards come out with a little self-centered interest in them, and the construction industry has turned around and built bombs for us. When they went from a prescription code to a performance code, it opened the door for lightweight construction, plastic assemblies, and buildings that fall down by gravity in 10 years, much less fire attack in five minutes U. The consumer demands for cheap, fast, less dense materials have made fires different for us today U. Fires are twice as hot and burn twice as fast. Fires inside structures are literally plastic bombs U.
The manning issue is a disgrace and, in my opinion, one of the primary causes of firefighter deaths if the building doesn`t behave. Nobody has a handle on it. The IAFF doesn`t have a handle on it, and the IAFC doesn`t have a handle on it. Who the heck is right to say four or five or three? It`s an assessment situation you do from size-up, and you should be in control of the manpower needs at the particular incident. I would bet you I could take anyone in this room and if I said you have 22 firefighters and a two-story private dwelling, could you tell me rapidly what each one [firefighter] is there to do and what it would cost you if that person were not there? You have to be able to do that. It`s called marketing; it`s called talking the language of the decision maker. It`s making them cry without the firefighter death.
Inside is hurting us. We`ve abandoned the basics for innovation. Surprise is brought back into our firefighting. We spent so many years whittling down surprise by excellence in training and communication. Collapse is not an option for surprise. Collapse should be known before it happens, but yet we have smoke explosions, flashovers, and–back from the old days–backdrafts, because of building construction and because of lack of manning to make the building behave while we`re in it. We`re in a love affair with command. But you can`t let it become so heavy on the top that there`s no focus on the tactics that have to be in place to perform the strategy that command wants to play. It`s a simple process, putting out fires–it`s not that complicated.
Unlike some, I try to offer some solutions. Number one, I encourage you to get a voice. Get involved. Provide a system for [sharing] national experiences.
Take the experts who really know the business at hand and have them sit on the exhaustive standards-making committees. Don`t let it be at the mercy of whoever can show up there without worrying about money for the family. We have great firefighters; we have intelligent firefighters in this country. We have apparatus experts, ladder experts, extinguishment experts, but it`s too costly to set them up to sit on these committees for the long length of time they program themselves.
Get the fire chief to believe in the business enough to stand side by side with labor, to walk together into the legislature. Because any time I had any kind of legislative improvement, labor was the lobby group, the firefighter organization was the lobby group, the volunteer organization was the lobby group. And almost 100 percent of the time when it came down to yes or no from the legislature, they turned around and said, What does the chief say? He`s got to get involved; he`s got to be part of the team. No longer can you sit with a suit on and not pay attention.
Training? Get some real-world stuff involved in it, as well as the technical. Find out who is great and successful in our business. What units are great and successful. What departments are great and successful. And then find out what they know that you need to teach, and get it. And stop this silliness of petty jealousy of not talking to one another or having to reinvent wheels all over America every time another idea comes up.
Realize that we`re in an unsafe job. I challenge you to make our people, our brothers, our family safe in it–without, I have to add, sacrificing our mission or giving up our aggressive operations and effectiveness.
And finally, as a body of change and movement and vitality and excellence, which you are, slow down. Get water on the fire; it may go out U.
You`re the greatest. You in this room, at this conference, at this time are the last bastion of anybody`s probability–except for a very few fire chiefs out of 30,000–who can provide fire service control by fire service leaders. I don`t think there`s any more time. This time is your time. You`re going to ascend. You`re going to rise through the ranks. You`re committed to excellence. You`re going to be an influential information provider, you`re going to be an expert, you`re going to be a leader, and you`re going to carry this fire service through the 21st century, leading it the way it should be led–by professional experts like you sitting right there.
Alan V. Brunacini
Chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire De-partment
Historically, customer service has not received much attention in our business. If you go to the local library and search for fire department customer service, you`d come up blank. That doesn`t mean we haven`t delivered good service to our customers for the past 240 years but that there has been very little writing, training, direction, and follow-up as far as a focus on customer service U.
Most of us managers are promoted technicians–simply our technical capability has been reinforced and rewarded. The technical aspect of our job is absolutely essential–it is the basis of effective customer service U.
The customers called us because they had a problem (and the reason we have such a good relationship with them is that, historically, we have solved those problems, we have responded quickly, we have done our jobs skillfully). And what we have done and what we`re perhaps bringing into better focus is simply the way we add value to that–as we say today, the “customer service stuff” U. Customer service makes a good thing better.
Our essential mission and number one priority is to deliver the best possible service to our customers U. But it`s interesting when we start looking at this in a new, different, better way. We`re looking at the professional side of what we`re doing. It would be interesting if we had U we ought to have Mrs. Smith come .U For Mrs. Smith, it`s [the emergency response is] not a professional event. A lot of times Mrs. Smith is a first-timer U. For example, a woman calls us a while back. She says she`s having trouble breathing. She sounds like an elderly woman and, if you listen to the tape, you can hear she`s having trouble breathing. The dispatcher says, “Do you live at Fifth and Don`t Walk?” She says, “Yes.” He says, “Okay, ma`am, stay on the line, we`ll put a medic on U.”
[The paramedic says,] “What`s going on out there, Mrs. Smith?”
She says, “I`m having trouble breathing.”
“How long you felt that way, ma`am?”
“About 20 minutes.”
“Where does it hurt?”
“What do you think is causing it?”
“The apartment under me is burning like hell!”
She`s not a real sophisticated customer when it comes to our service. So [the paramedic] resorts to that complicated ALS; he says, “Get the hell out of there!”
UWe talk about added value, and I don`t mean any disrespect to Mrs. Smith; a lot of us are first-timers. Some parts of our system are transparent to Mrs. Smith, so there`s a lot of stuff we have to do for [her] to effectively deliver service, because she doesn`t get an assistant, just like we don`t when we`re in her position in a lot of different service delivery experiences. Added value is a little extra, and it can create a big Wow! in the process [of service delivery] U.
The most critical thing that all of us enjoy in our [fire service] systems simply is our relationship with Mrs. Smith. If you`ve got [on] a navy blue T-shirt [with the department`s name] on the back of it, at 3 a.m. you can go into Mrs. Smith`s back bedroom and cut the pajamas off of her eight-year-old granddaughter. Now it doesn`t get any better than that. I`ve got an eight-year-old granddaughter; and, believe me, we`re pretty picky about who can do that. You don`t need a letter, you don`t need to show them credentials. If you show up on a BRT [big red truck], you can do that. I`m staying up at the hotel, and I haven`t seen anybody working at the hotel who I would let cut the pajamas off of me.
Hardware and software are transparent to Mrs. Smith. She will remember the humans who treated her in a caring way .U Mrs. Smith called us because her kitchen`s burning. She`s a smart person–she knows that very little burns when it`s submerged. She called us for a kitchen fire 2,500 times in Phoenix last year. She never called up and said, “My kitchen is on fire; please send me a command post.” She has never asked, as we pulled up on side A, “Has that engine passed its pump test?”
U I spent five days in a local hospital. Let me ask you guys, Did you ever go into an MRI? How much does it cost? Millions. Let me tell you, it`s a gigantic stainless-steel donut into which they put humans; it`s sized for someone who wears a medium T-shirt. They have really nice technicians, super technicians just as nice as can be. One said to me, “Before you get in there we have a blanket warmer. Here, we`ll put you in with a warm blanky.” Then she says, “What kind of music do you like?” I say, “Country music–what other kind of music is there?” She says okay; they put me in this thing that cost millions of dollars, and what do I remember? I remember a warm blanket and listening to some guy singing that his wife ran off with his best friend and he misses him. Can we plug ourselves into that?
What does Mrs. Smith remember? Look at the letter she writes us. “You responded quickly.” That`s about four lines. “You did your job skillfully.” That`s about another paragraph. What does she write for the other page and a half? How nice you were to her and her family. Clearly, we need to do all the technical, tactical, operational, manipulative, developmental kinds of things we do, but what does she remember? What do I remember? Listening to country music–you know, “I can`t get over you until you get out from under him ….”
Dr. Denis Onieal
Superintendent, National Fire Academy
The basic element of understanding leadership is understanding followership. Because you cannot be a good leader unless you know how to follow. And you ask yourself, What kind of person do I follow? What kind of issues motivate me to follow–in my own organizations, at home, under social circumstances, or in my work? ….
Ray Downey, Sr.
Battalion Chief, City of New York (NY) Fire Department Terrorism has taken on a new light. It`s a new part of the fire service that we all had better prepare for. I don`t stand up here to scare you but to awaken you .U
When I say terrorism, what do you think of? You`d probably think of the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, the Atlanta Olympics–all nationally televised events in which the fire service has been involved. And who is the first responder to terrorism? It`s you. This is not an area in which we can say, “Well, I know about large-diameter hose or aerial ladders.” I stand up here to tell you, having been involved in all three of those terrorist incidents personally at the scene, that we have an awful lot to learn.
In 1993, we got a big wake-up call in the financial district in New York City U. We respond on average more than three times a day into the World Trade Center, a complex of seven buildings, two of them 110-story towers. And the brother firefighters rolling out the door [on this one day] heard the explosion and, because it was a cold winter`s day with a little snow on the ground, they said, “Hey, that sounds like that transformer is going again U.” Wake-up call. Twelve thousand pounds of chemicals placed in a van in a garage area took out five floors, killed six people, and injured more than 1,000. [It was] the first international act of terrorism on U.S. soil.
I follow up on terrorist incidents quite a bit. Some of these may not be defined by the federal government or other authority as terrorist incidents, but just listen to what`s been going on in the last six or eight months. In March Prince George`s County, Maryland, had its 85th bomb scare in a school. Four potentially explosive devices were found in a school. In Sandy, Utah, the animal rights activists placed six pipe bombs and blew up a plant that produced feed for mink farms. In Jacksonville, Florida, a pipe bomb was found in a synagogue; it was meant to disrupt the speech of a former Israeli prime minister. In Robesville, Georgia, 16 bombs were found in the home of a suspect wanted for a theft. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, two bombs exploded at the rear of an abortion clinic. This was the second attack at that abortion clinic; it had previously been firebombed.
Two incidents occurred in the past couple of months at airports–one at Washington National Airport and the other in Baltimore. There were mysterious odors. Of course, the fire department and law enforcement were on the scene to investigate. And the theory comes back that they [the odors] were actually set by terrorists to determine how long and what type of response we have for an incident such as that. In Amherst, Massachusetts, in a junior high school, a janitor found two homemade bombs in a student locker–they had enough potential power to kill someone. In my own city, we had a series of letter bombs to the United Nations. They also occurred in Washington and Kansas. We found a number of pipe bombs on a rooftop; and two weeks ago we had an incident in a private home in a very exclusive area, where we found numerous chemicals and the makings of bombs. And the last cylinder in there was marked “Sarin.” Fortunately, it turned out not to be. In Atlanta, Georgia, starting with the bombing of the Olympics U we had a new series of terrorist incidents U. A couple of months later, [a bombing] in the Sandy Spring Family Planning Center was the first incident we had in this country at which a second device went off. The second device was loaded with bedsprings and nails and bits of [other hard] material. It happened again a couple of weeks later at a gay and lesbian bar; fortunately, that second device was found and detonated prior to injuring anybody. At the abortion clinic, a number of people were injured U. And what is that second device meant to do? To kill you. To seriously injure or kill you U.
Ever hear of Brendan Blass? He was arrested in Kalamazoo, Michigan. [He was] found with a number of bombs, and he was ready to bomb the federal building in Battle Creek. He was part of a militia. How many states do you think have militias? [Militias exist in] 42 states U.
Right after the World Trade Center Bombing, they arrested a group of Muslims who had planned to bomb all our major bridges and tunnels that lead from New York to New Jersey U. Arizona had a train derailment about two years ago–they went after the train U. I live about six blocks from an abortion clinic. Every Saturday morning, there is a demonstration there. Unfortunately, there have been some fatal demonstrations around the country .U The other day a judge in Illinois was firebombed U.
Is the fire service ready to handle these incidents?
How many of you know about nerve agents, Sarin, Tobin, V agents? How about blister agents, mustard gas, or lucite? Blood agents, hydrogen cyanide? Choking agents, irritating agents, biological agents, anthrax, botulism, cholera? Think it`s not possible? Get with it. It`s not a matter of what, where, or who–but when …. It`s going to happen–accept the fact.
Leo G. Stapleton
Former Commissioner, Boston (MA) Fire Department
There seems to be a loss or misunderstanding of the basic mission of the fire service by at least a portion of its leadership U.
It makes me wonder if the leaders of some fire departments are losing sight of the fact that they are supposed to be firefighters first and then EMTs, haz-mat experts, and other types of specialists U.
Before rising to [the rank of officer or chief officer], it is absolutely essential that prospective leaders learn this very demanding business. And I`m concerned that in some cases, at least, this lesson has not been learned. I remember having a very disturbing discussion with the chief of a major city fire department about his own role in firefighting. He really alarmed me when he said, “You know, I`m an administrator. You old guys seem to be always in the news directing operations and covered with dirt. I let my deputies handle all suppression incidents. That`s what they`re supposed to do. I haven`t been to a fire in years.” If what he told me is true, it`s probably just as well he never responds. If I were a firefighter, I know I`d have no interest in being inside a fire building and counting on his expertise to protect me and bring me out safely U.
At some point in most chief officers` careers, there will come a day when they will be confronted with a potentially dangerous situation in which they will be required to call on everything they have absorbed in past experiences to safeguard the lives of citizens and firefighters. If they took the job as a matter of prestige or to get a higher salary and neglected to learn what they should have, they will fail to perform effectively, to the detriment of those they are sworn to protect. To me, firefighting is a job that has to be learned through experience. You must keep going to know what you`re doing U.
When I came on the job, we were instructed in the operating procedures essential for effective firefighting, and I must say, by the time I left 39 years later, much of what those old training officers taught us has been retained for very good reasons U. The [fire] attack remains basically the same because it was and still is appropriate and successful U.
Training is so essential to the performance of any emergency service organization, and I`m not sure enough of it is currently being devoted to firefighting operations in some fire departments. Chief officers should not be exempt from training. The most effective operational practices for officers in command still and should require uncomplicated but organized procedures including size-up, sufficient help, life hazard, exposure, entry, ventilation, extinguishment, salvage, overhauling, cause of the fire, and dismissal of companies. These remain the primary considerations. It may sound a little difficult to memorize 11 steps, but actually, they`re quite automatic at most incidents if your SOPs are intelligently designed. Well-trained personnel in fire companies with properly established advanced assignments should be accomplishing most of these objectives without direct orders from the officer in command. Under such a plan, he always retains the flexibility and the authority to adjust any of the operations employed to existing and unusual conditions. The most dramatic departure from the ordinary format is when human life is in danger. In such cases, every action taken must be directed to saving such lives, including those of firefighters, even if it later proves detrimental to the effectiveness of the entire operation and results in the loss of the property. This is actually very basic stuff that doesn`t require a university degree to learn–just concentration, practice, and experience. As a matter of fact, after a fire, a prudent chief officer should review these 11 points and see how he did–it`s an easy method of self-analysis.
I also believe that firefighters, no matter how experienced they are, respond to serious incidents with a certain amount of apprehension, or fear. I know I always did right up until the day I retired. It is a dangerous business, and fear of the unknown is always present. It is definitely a business of surprises. Therefore, the operation must be kept as simple as possible, because it is very difficult for personnel to concentrate on many objectives at once when working under great stress. The fire itself will provide all the complications necessary; none should be intentionally added by the responding forces` mandated procedures. Some of the incident command systems I have read are not all that easy to interpret, and I don`t understand why. When I see that a floor is no longer described as a floor but as a division or a subdivision or as a level or as a sublevel, it startles me. Or when I read about exposure 2B or 4E, I get nervous. Is it really necessary to change common words or identities and, more importantly, does this improve the operation or the safety of the occupants and the suppression forces? The chief officers I learned from in my career, beyond their continuous concern for life safety, were primarily interested in the fire building itself–its front and its rear, the exposures above the fire, and the adjoining or adjacent structures to the left and to the right. Also, where the fire is now and where it`s most likely to be going. When I read about the northeast corner of a building or the exposure to the southwest, I wonder if these people have compasses, or whether they are just that much smarter than we were. I was pretty grateful if I could just determine which building was closest to the wind-driven fire, but I had no interest in its specific relationship to magnetic north. I`ve also seen pictures of chief officers, usually not in turnout gear, sometimes in dress hats, short-sleeved white shirts, and sunglasses, huddled over blueprints on the hoods o
On that subject U I think there has sometimes been a misapprehension that the officer in front of the building is so knowledgeable that he is aware of everything that`s transpiring. Well, that is not always the case. Sure, he might be very experienced, but he really is the captive of others at the scene U. He must base many of his most vital decisions on the information he receives from others inside the building in locations he cannot see himself U. Remember, that chief out front may not be aware of sagging floors or the depth of water on them. He cannot see burned-away structural supports or separations of floors from walls. He cannot hear cracking beams or collapsing roofs, but company officers, aides, and firefighters can when they are inside and should have the ability and the authority to attempt to get that information to him.
I`ve also read procedures that don`t permit individual initiative at the company level, and I wonder why. First of all, every SOP should be designed to give preassigned positions to the first-alarm response and allow those companies to commence operations without receiving additional orders from a superior unless they are altered by the officer in command. And the member in charge of the first company at the scene should be allowed to order any assistance he or she requires. I always made the point that the first member at the scene of any incident has all the power and authority of the chief of department until relieved by a superior. He or she is the official representative of the entire fire department at that time U. I think that some of the more exotic command systems are designed to handle a huge conflagration that you may never face in your entire career, but the same systems often create confusion in conducting the attack on the ordinary building fires, which are your most likely opponents. If your attack procedures are based on experience and reality, they can easily be expanded to handle the most complicated of situations. Just getting that first engine company with that first adequate attack line to the seat of the fire as rapidly as you can is usually much more effective than all the blueprints and vests you can throw at it U.
Editor, Fire Engineering
Excellence is achieved with necessary tools–like education, like improved methodologies, like improved training–but its driving force is fire service leadership at every level and every rank, for leadership never was and never will be predicated on insignias or helmet color.
You–firefighters, fire officers, chief officers, and others in the fire and life safety profession–you are leaders in what you do, how you act, what you think, and what you convey to the fire service around you, day in and day out. Leadership is about making those around you better because you have a vision, a vision predicated on the deepest commitment to life safety and duty.
You are the lifeblood of the fire service. You have much to give. It is in your giving that fire departments become better trained and equipped for fires and emergencies, and it is in your capacity for leadership and learning that you become better qualified for the giving.
Your leadership is your gift to the fire service that will carry through into every fire service endeavor. How is there good training without good leadership? How is there fireground safety without it? How else can we get to the point at which we will never have to say that a firefighter was injured or died in vain, or for the wrong purpose, or for something that we could have controlled before the fact? How can we master the flurry of change that confronts this modern fire service every day, if not for strong leadership?
President, IAFF Local 416
U. Solidarity of purpose must be adopted in the fire service. We must break down the barriers and egos U because that`s what`s killing our members. [Our own egos] keep us in different camps and allow ambitious politicians to tell us what they are willing to give us rather than taking an objective look at the needs of the communities we service and addressing those needs with adequate resources. We will never accomplish our goal of creating the safest fireground possible unless we push aside our differences and egos and start working on common issues, keeping our friends and co-workers alive and healthy.
Thomas Von Essen
Commissioner, City of New York (NY) Fire Department
The main priority for me has been to concentrate again on basics. Concentrate again on firefighter safety. I guess my main purpose is supposed to be to keep the citizens of New York City alive. It`s actually my second purpose. I don`t say that to them, but my first purpose is to keep our firefighters alive .U I think we have to realize a lot of our folks don`t do the training that`s necessary. A lot of folks don`t want to have the accountability that`s necessary. And I think it`s up to somebody like me in a position of leadership to make sure that it happens.
Chief, Mason-Deerfield (OH) Joint Fire District
I met a really enthusiastic lieutenant with whom I became friends, and he told me that in a couple of months he would be promoted to captain and he was going to become the training officer for this department in southern New York State. So I made it my business in my travels to go visit this individual, and I`ll never forget this. He used to ride this big American La France, real glamorous–the leather helmet and everything else–and I ask where this guy`s at. So they direct me to this firehouse somewhere in some off-corner of the city, and he was literally in the basement, and it was dark and dingy and nasty and basically it was almost the classic caricature, “Okay, you`re the training officer–now get out of my way, go in the basement”–kind of like the saying, “The crazy uncle goes in the basement.” So I remembered that story, and I thought, Whoa, maybe we have a problem. So I gave a lot of thought to it and started talking to training officers. And I`ll give you some idea of what the training officers said:
“I`d like to have the authority and support to do this job. I don`t get it.”
“I`d like to have some time [for training] instead of having to run to the airport to pick up fire chiefs who are coming in from out of town”–in other words, don`t use me as your errand boy, or girl, as the case may be.
“I`d like some materials; I don`t want to have to borrow, beg, and steal and then get yelled at when we don`t meet our initiatives.”
“I`d like your cooperation, Chief.”
If there`s one thing that came up in talking to these training officers, it`s the word support. In fact, one training officer, when asked what his top 10 important things were, wrote down the word support 10 times.
“Include me, Chief. I can make or break the success of this organization.” I`m not sure that individual wasn`t saying, “Chief, I could make or break you.”
“Use outside resources” was another issue. “Let me bring some of these experts in from around the country; let me go to the FDIC. Don`t be threatened when I come home with a new idea.”
“Chief, if you want us to have a training program, make it clear to the membership that they have got to participate.” Apparently, that`s a big problem out there.
“Let me participate in prioritization of what`s important in our fire department.”
“Communicate with me, Chief. Don`t just see me once every six months. Come by; let me know what you think. How are the results? Are we getting things done?”
The list goes on and on. “Wow, we`ve got problems. It`s a lot bigger than I thought U.” I thought to myself, Everything I do as a fire chief involves training. Most of our problems are the result of poor or no training.
Edward S. Cohn
Ramsey (NJ) Fire Department
Volunteerism in the youth of our country is 100 percent of the future of the volunteer fire service and all emergency services. I am one of the 800,000 volunteer firefighters in our country, and I`m very proud of that. But, in another respect, I`m not quite happy with the numbers, because the 800,000 is down from the 900,000 of 15 years ago. That trend has to be reversed. So our goal is one million by 2000, and we can do that. To make one million by the year 2000, we must educate the residents of our country, we must educate the municipal governments, and we also must educate the fire service.
Fire Code Coordinator, Southern Building Code Congress International
As PASS devices have become more common, so too have intricate and aggressive accountability systems. But without a sound incident management system, accountability becomes little more than a name-tag management system and a way to identify the missing and dead .U I realize NFPA 1500 and 1561 require accountability systems and they may greatly aid incident commanders in maintaining situational awareness. But I`m concerned at what the act of passing a name tag to a control point officer does. Does it suggest that I`m passing responsibility for my safety to that control point officer?
My idea of accountability is very simple and has nothing to do with name tags: Instead, every member takes personal responsibility for his or her own safety. And makes a commitment to the safety of his or her coworkers. When any one of us fails to follow a safety procedure or act safely, regardless of the outcome, company members–not OSHA, not management, not the company officer–hold the offender accountable by rejecting this behavior as reckless, dangerous, and counterproductive U.
Tracy M. Boatwright
Indiana State Fire Marshal
Children under the age of 18 accounted for 55 percent of arrests for arson in this country–the first time that`s ever jumped to that mark. It had for years stayed right at the 40-percent mark. And now it has jumped to 55. We have a problem in this country, folks. We have a problem with children and fire.
Deputy Chief, City of New York (NY) Fire Department
[It was] a major innovation in New York City. The fire commissioner at that time told us to release the information [from comprehensive investigations of firefighter fatalities] U to tell our firefighters how our fellow firefighters had died, and don`t worry about the lawsuits.
Randall W. Napoli
Superintendent, Florida State Fire College
Technology is racing forward, and we have to catch up with it. We`re attempting to do that in the state of Florida. Why do we need this virtual classroom [linked together via the Internet]? We`re spread out all over the state, just as you are in your state or territory or area. We have a very difficult time reaching all the firefighters in our state. Volunteer departments that are very rural and very small have very limited resources; it`s difficult for us at the state fire marshal`s office to get training to these individuals. Beyond that, we need to get [our training] information out on a timely basis. We feel that the Internet, which is instantaneous, [accomplishes that]. This type of distance training has long been a desire of the fire service to free firefighters from the time constraints of a normal classroom and us from the geographical constraints of not being able to get to that classroom U. All lecture-style classes can be delivered via the Internet.
Glenn P. Corbett
Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The topic [of performance-based building codes] is critical to the fire service. No, it isn`t as exciting as discussing why the 134-inch handline may be the booster line of the `90s or why terrorism has changed our response to governmental structures. But it`s just as important. It`s going to affect the way you fight fires into the next century U.
As firefighters, what should you consider and be concerned about with respect to performance-based building codes?
The way we train building and fire inspectors and plan reviewers today will have to change. Although we all don`t have to become fire protection engineers, we`ll have to be able to understand what the designers are telling us and how all the fire protection pieces are going to fit together for a particular building. Proper training will, out of necessity, have to teach the skills of separating fact from fiction and being able to think critically about fire protection designs.
Verifying compliance will take more time than it does now, at least initially U it will take longer to analyze buildings U. The push for permits will have to slow down until everyone gets up to speed.
The new performance requirements also will likely introduce more aspects of human behavior into building design. Relying on people to act in a certain manner is questionable at best. How would you feel about a high-rise building design whose foundation is based on the defend-in-place strategy that we`re familiar with today that, in my opinion, is a farce? How would you feel about having to deal with a building that depends on a defend-in-place strategy but has very reduced egress widths for their exit stairwells and exit egress paths? How would you feel about having to worry about the human factor, not just all these other architectural/engineering issues?
Computer modeling will increasingly become the tool of choice in the fire protection engineer`s toolbox. Although computers are not to be feared, you must be able to understand what they`re telling and how the results fit into the overall design concept U.
The performance-based code train is steaming down the track, and you haven`t gotten to the station yet. National fire code and national fire-related organizations are out there to represent you. How can this be if only a small portion of the fire service knows what`s going on? We have a problem because this whole concept is not well-understood throughout the fire service U. My charge to you today is to educate yourselves on this topic. Realize that performance codes will directly affect how you fight fires in buildings in the next century. Take an active role in the national discussions that already are taking place. Analyze how a performance building code will affect your community. Make your voice heard if you want to influence what those performance codes look like. Passiveness in this case is equivalent to acceptance.
Stephen N. Foley
Senior Fire Service Specialist, National Fire Protection Association
Keep clapping. The fire service is to be congratulated. I think we, collectively, have reached the point that people are participating in the [NFPA standards-making] process U. As part of the process, if you submitted a comment, you are still in the loop, and you will receive a written reply back from the committee of what action they took on your comment U.
This is the only forum for change in the fire service. For many years, many of the national organizations who should be providing the leadership for national fire service policy and national fire direction have not U. Fire protection in the United States has always been and continues to be a local government responsibility. Therefore, you might say we have a free enterprise system of fire protection. Any jurisdiction can do whatever its tax base allows it to do. Too many times, what we do is determined on an emotional basis rather than on an objective basis. This, then, has created in our nation a void of leadership that still exists U.
Many positive changes and improvements that gained their impetus from FDIC are too numerous to mention here. But let me stress the importance of this forum for the ex-change of ideas, knowledge, and information. The FDIC should never die, because it can always provide the vehicle for progressive and important changes in the fire service. Every fire service instructor should keep in mind that fire service education`s primary objective should be to teach people how to think objectively about the fire problems in this country. n