BY RONALD E. KANTERMAN
I started writing this article in my dormitory room, Building “C,” at the National Fire Academy (NFA) on December 14, 1999. I get inspired when I’m there and found it only fitting to start to put my thoughts on paper while at the NFA. I waited for quite a while, with anticipation, to get to this course [Command and Control at Target Hazards (CCTH)], and it has been well worth the wait.
Our class had 23 members, representing 10 states from California to New Jersey and from Alaska to Florida. The course itself was well organized and was presented, as we all would expect, by two of the country’s finest fire service professionals.
It’s interesting to have been “reading” a person for 15 years or so and then to actually meet him and hear the “gospel from the horse’s mouth.” I’m referring to Burt Phelps, retired deputy chief from Ann Arundel County, Maryland. His style of teaching and that of his teammate, retired Chief Glen Gaines from Fairfax County, Virginia, constituted pure quality at the highest standards. [Phelps appointed me class incident commander (IC) for the week to ensure that the peripheral and auxiliary functions were taken care of, such as ordering the class shirts and tending to the graduation party.]
Having been given the power of Class IC, I can now take the liberty to offer Burt and Glen a collective “tip of the helmet” on behalf of the last CCTH class of the past century. We truly appreciate your wisdom and your insight and the fabulous memories we will all have for years to come. Thank you both.
NFA: A NATIONAL TREASURE
It doesn’t stop here. By the second day of class, 23 complete strangers were sharing their experiences, making friends, and exchanging business cards. (I believe the term is networking!) Nicknames were quickly abound, and we had our very own “Class Larry,” “Foam Man,” and “Queen of Command” (couldn’t print some others!). There are few occupations and places in this great country of ours where this happens so naturally. It is an instant bond. This is one of those things that makes the NFA a national treasure.
25th ANNIVERSARY OF AMERICA BURNING
In case you haven’t been paying attention, we (all of us) are celebrating the 25th anniversary of America Burning, the report on America’s fire problem compiled and released by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control requested by President Richard Nixon. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Academy were born from this report. Since its inception 20 years ago, the NFA has touched 80,000 emergency responders annually. It has proceeded to get the country’s fire and emergency services on the same song sheet in a multitude of arenas, including incident command, hazardous materials response, arson investigation, fire prevention, and terrorism response (not all things, but many!). The NFA has reached out all over the United States through its Training Resources and Data Exchange (TRADE) program and the use of local training organizations by providing materials, student manuals, instructor guides, audiovisual aids, and so on-yes, complete programs to use by local training agencies (programs that otherwise may never have been presented at the local level). The NFA is truly a national treasure. Mr. and Mrs. Citizen do not know it, but we do.
FEMA RECOGNIZES VALUE OF USFA
I was here in August for the “stakeholders” meeting. All national fire service organizations and the press spent two days in the Building “J” auditorium with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director James Lee Witt. He wanted to meet with us to discuss the action plan developed on the basis of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s 38 recommendations for improving the USFA and the NFA. And discuss we did, and stay he did. It was rather impressive for an advisor to the President to “hang out for two days with the firefighters.” Chief Richard Marinucci, the interim chief operating officer of the USFA, facilitated the meeting and did an excellent job. Witt repeated many times throughout the two-day meeting that this was “very important to the people of this country.” You see, FEMA Director Witt, although not a firefighter, sees the value of the USFA and also believes that the NFA is a national treasure. It comes right from the top.
HONORING FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS
I returned to the NFA campus in October for the Memorial Weekend. This year, we honored 95 firefighters who died in the line of duty during 1998. I, along with the other weekend volunteers, put in a couple of “extra long” days; but, in the end, it was well worth the time and effort. The Foundation staff and the weekend volunteers came together to create an event that made the affected families and the fire service proud. Major Victor Stagnaro of the Prince Georges County (MD) Fire Department, our IC for the weekend, did an outstanding job helping to coordinate the effort. We look forward to working with the major again next year. However, all agreed that we would love to see this particular ceremony fade away over time. This year’s ceremonies were closer to my heart more so than those of other years because three firefighters of the Fire Department of New York, who had made the supreme sacrifice on December 18, 1998, in a high-rise in Brooklyn, were honored. You see, this all started for me almost 25 years ago at the very fire station at which they worked.
The fact that the National Fallen Firefighter’s Monument is on the NFA campus also makes the Academy a national treasure, for there enshrined forever are the fallen firefighters of children, spouses, other families members, and coworkers from all over the country.
In the same light, the buzz in the halls all week was about the fire in Worcester, Massachusetts. The USFA staff posted a 25-foot-long tribute to the “Worcester Six” on one of the walls in Building “J.” The display included articles and newspaper stories of the events surrounding the tragedy and the memorial services. Thank you, NFA staff, for going to the services in Worcester and for representing the NFA and those of us who have been at the NFA or who have had the opportunity to be affiliated with the NFA. All contribute to maintaining the NFA as a national treasure.
The week also brought Dr. Denis Onieal to our class to greet us and ask how things were going. He takes a no-nonsense approach to maintaining the NFA’s quality of education and facilities. Thank you, Dr. Onieal, for helping to maintain the NFA as a national treasure, for it is your high standards that keep it that way. We were also greeted on our last day, just prior to graduation, by U.S. Fire Administrator Carrye Brown. Among other kind comments, she made a point of reminding us that we were the last graduating class of the past millennium (the NFA shut down for the last two weeks of the year).
If you haven’t had the opportunity to go to Emmitsburg, start investigating how you can. The history of this campus dates back to Mother Elizabeth Seton, who opened the first Catholic school in the United States on the property in the mid-1800s. The Union Army generals met in her house, which still stands on the campus, to discuss strategy when they were summoned to Gettysburg for the final days of the Civil War. Start asking your local training organizations about NFA courses being given at their academies. If you have taken at least one NFA course on or off campus, join the NFA Alumni Association. Help keep the National Fire Academy what it has become, a national treasure. n
RONALD E. KANTERMAN is the chief of emergency services for Merck & Co. in Rahway, New Jersey. He has a B.A. in fire administration and an M.S. in fire protection management from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Kanterman also is an adjunct professor of fire protection at Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey. He is a member of the New Jersey State Fire Safety Commission Codes Advisory Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs Haz Mat Committee, the FDIC Educational Advisory Committee, and the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board. Kanterman is Region 2 director of the National Fire Academy Alumni Association as well as a member of the board of directors.