News In Brief


This year’s FDIC conference was a record-breaking event that shattered attendance records and exceeded attendees’ expectations. Following are some highlights from the Opening Ceremony and General Session that took place April 20-21, 2016, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Jason Rivera: 2016 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award

Firefighter Jason Rivera, an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a member of the New Haven (CT) Fire Department, was awarded the 2016 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award at Wednesday’s Opening Ceremony. Robert Biolchini, chairman of the board, PennWell Corp., presented the award. Fire Department of New York Battalion Chiefs Joe and Chuck Downey, sons of Ray Downey; Cathy Hedrick, corporate relations specialist/survivor, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation; Chief Ron Kanterman, National Fire Academy Alumni Association; and Bobby Halton, Fire Engineering editor in chief/FDIC education director, also members of the Selection Committee, participated in the ceremony.

(1) (l-r) Toby Biolchini, Robert Biolchini, Jason Rivera, Christine Rivera, Father John Carney, Bobby Halton
(1) (l-r) Toby Biolchini, Robert Biolchini, Jason Rivera, Christine Rivera, Father John Carney, Bobby Halton

“Today’s awardee is special in many ways, for his is a story that is often overlooked in rescue stories and awards where the rescue is celebrated for the grab-and deservingly so-but in many cases, the grab could not have happened without the selfless acts of many others,” noted Joe Downey.

“This is one of those stories where the nozzleman made the rescue possible but not without dire risk, not without great personal danger, and not without sustaining significant injuries,” Chuck Downey added. “This award would brighten our Dad’s face, for it simultaneously recognizes the courage and valor of an individual and the courage and valor of a department.” See scenario description at

Jerry Tracy: Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award

(2) Eileen Brennan, Jerry Tracy, Bobby Halton
(2) Eileen Brennan, Jerry Tracy, Bobby Halton

Jerry Tracy, retired battalion chief and 31-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and a pioneer researcher in the areas of high-rise operations and wind-driven fires, firefighter safety, and contemporary fire tactics, received the 2016 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award at Thursday’s General Session. Eileen Brennan, daughter of Chief Tom Brennan, presented the award with Bobby Halton.

Peter van Dorpe: FE/ISFSI George D. Post Instructor of the Year

(3) Peter van Dorpe is flanked by award presenters Steve Pegram (left) and Glenn Corbett.
(3) Peter van Dorpe is flanked by award presenters Steve Pegram (left) and Glenn Corbett.

Peter van Dorpe, chief of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills (IL) Fire Protection District, received the 2016 Fire Engineering/International Society of Fire Service Instructors George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award at Thursday’s General Session. Van Dorpe has been a field instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute, a lead instructor for the Chicago (IL) Fire Department’s Fire Officer School, and an instructor on building construction for the fire service through the City Colleges of Chicago. ISFSI President Steve Pegram and Professor Glenn Corbett, technical editor of Fire Engineering, presented the award.

Bobby Halton: “Honor Before All: We leave no one behind”

In his welcoming address at the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, Bobby Halton, editor in chief of Fire Engineering/FDIC education director, described how adhering to the firefighter code develops character and fosters the highest ideal of all: “Honor Before All-Honor Ante Omnia: We will never under any circumstances leave anyone behind. Whether they are rich or poor, they are like us or different from us, they are mentally healthy or mentally ill, whether they contribute to society or live off the generosity of society, we leave no one behind.”

(4) Bobby Halton: “We leave no one behind.”
(4) Bobby Halton: “We leave no one behind.”

He also described why the firefighter is “a stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man” (an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s statement: “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.”).

Tactics and the “Downrange” Mentality

On Thursday, at the General Session, Bobby Halton explained how the fire service can attain the “downrange” mindset that maximizes confidence and skill at the point where, according to the military definition, we meet the enemy and the fire. Halton described how tactics fits into this process.

The fire service’s tactics have been successful, Halton stressed, because “they have evolved spontaneously from the bottom up.” These tactics, he said, “match our threats, capabilities, and responsibilities. We do not need to be forced to change because we are constantly evolving.”

The correct employment of tactics, Halton noted, depends on well-trained units in the best traditions of the fire service-units that understand that “the efforts of all of the members together are much more effective than what each individual could accomplish alone. There must be a cohesiveness of thought and action in which the importance of the unit’s goals and mission is more important than individual goals.”

Halton asserted: “There must be a profile, a mindset, and a demeanor reserved exclusively for when the firefighter goes downrange to fight fire. Going downrange is more than just a mindset, self- and situational awareness, or tactics and procedures. It is a way of life, a way of being in the moment together in a highly cohesive team, a way of protecting and saving lives, a way of honoring our code, Honor Ante Omnia, no one left behind.”

Steve Pegram: Everyone Can Be a Hero

Steve Pegram, chief of the Goshen (OH) Fire Department, shared with the audience how firefighters can take a step toward saving a life “without ever riding a fire engine again, without going on a call, and without even getting out of their seats.” They can accomplish this by becoming organ donors. He related how “the simple 4 Fs Rule” (Faith, Family, Friends, and Fire Department)-the priorities by which he strives to live his life-figured prominently in sustaining him and his family during a crisis involving the illness of Mollie, his wife, and their long, distressing wait for donor lungs that almost arrived too late to save her. Mollie received a double lung transplant and made a full recovery.

(5) Mollie and Steve Pegram: “Wouldn’t you like to save a life?”
(5) Mollie and Steve Pegram: “Wouldn’t you like to save a life?”

Her presence on the stage at the conclusion of her husband’s address notably affected the audience, climaxing an emotional and moving presentation. Pegram left the audience with this question: “So now I ask all of you, wouldn’t you like to save a life? We have all taken an oath to save a life, even if it means losing our own. If you were to lose your life today, wouldn’t you want to continue to honor that oath?” He then urged audience members to register to be organ donors.

Derek Alkonis: Accountability Starts with Me

“Peak performance is achieved through a process that includes making personal decisions and holding oneself accountable,” Assistant Chief Derek Alkonis, Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department, told the audience in his keynote address on Thursday. Alkonis then explained what constitutes “peak performance” and some ways fire service members can prepare themselves to make those quality decisions that will “determine the future effectiveness of their departments.”

(6) Derek Alkonis: “Search for knowledge anywhere.”
(6) Derek Alkonis: “Search for knowledge anywhere.”

Alkonis cited some of the attitudes and actions that help firefighters succeed in their quest toward peak performance:

  • Keep an open mind; be open to new ways of doing things.
  • Search for knowledge anywhere. “Once we are open to learning, we begin to find connections and similarities in even unlikely places.”
  • “Learn fearlessly.” Alkonis described attending a conference where U.S. Navy Admiral Eric Thor Olson, former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, gave these answers to questions posed by fire officers: I encourage my SEALS to ‘Learn Fearlessly’ because SEALS are driven to stay alive. They are interested in completing their mission successfully, but they are even more interested in being alive when it’s done. This drives the operator to know everything about the mission, his role, team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and their equipment. The fastest way to be fired as a SEAL officer after having something go wrong is to use the excuse, ‘We have always done it that way.’
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