140 Years of Fire Engineering: The Learning Never Stops

Diane Rothschild of Fire Engineering

Celebrate with us all year long as we commemorate 140 years of Fire Engineering magazine. Look out for exclusive archival content and features leading up to our November 17, 2017 anniversary. Above, Executive Editor Diane Feldman reflects on this milestone for the magazine.


John K. Murphy, retired Lacey (WA) firefighter and attorney: Happy Birthday Fire Engineering and FDIC on your respective birthdays. One could not happen without the other. This is a formidable partnership in learning, discussing, educating, and creating a forum where all firefighters have the opportunity to educate, teach, and learn from the best in our fire service industry

As a child, I grew up in Bainbridge New York, a small town between Albany and New York City. It seemed like everyone was a part of the fire department or rescue squad in the town. The emergency siren for fire and rescue squad calls was nearly in my backyard and sitting on the tip of Borden Chemical Company. We knew about every fire and EMS call in the village and town many affecting friends and families in this small town. The hills would come alive with the volunteer firefighter blue lights responding to the fire station. The department was staffed with dedicated volunteers of all ages. I went to the station to see what it was all about and how the volunteers learned their trade craft. Lots of training, lots of reading, lots of discussion and looking around the day room, there were a number of books and magazines available for the firefighters and opportunities for outside training.

I was not hooked at this time although my best friend’s fathers were all members of the department either as firefighters or on the rescue squad.

A major event occurred in 1966, which gave rise to a major appreciation of the service of the local volunteer firefighters from Bainbridge and surrounding communities when a freight train derailed in the middle of town, killing Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Delello, Sr., and destroying the fire and police station. A fire soon started. The worst of the fire was in the Delello house and the wrecked freight cars in that area behind the fire house made of wood and many carrying industrial rolls of paper. Beams and debris were moved to enable the firemen to back the fire trucks out of the station. Their firefighting task was made especially difficult because water was in short supply—the electricity was out at the pump stations for the first 35 minutes of the fire and the only water pressure available was from the reservoirs.  In addition the water standpipe in the fire station had been knocked out by the freight cars.

Firemen immediately concentrated their efforts on the dangerous task of keeping two LP gas tanks cool. Each of those large tanks contained 33,000 gallons of liquefied propane gas and the danger of explosion was a constant possibility. The firemen directed their water onto these tanks in an effort to keep them from exploding. Thomas F. Curry, supervisor of the U.S. Bureau of Mines office in Albany, was summoned to help in dealing with possible explosion threats. He stated that through proper handling of the emergency the danger of explosion had been held to a minimum. An explosion of these LP gas tanks could have damaged an area of one-half mile radius. In addition, a tank car containing 20,000 gallons of naphtha leaked and fed the fire. The Bainbridge firemen battled the fire all Friday night and all day Saturday until 7:00 p.m. when they pulled their last hose line. A standby detail was maintained for a longer time.  Many of the firemen fought the fire for 18 hours straight without rest.

Admirable effort on the part of the fire department and I wondered what crazy fire chief would have his firefighters so close to the fire and even on top of the tanks. An activity of which I demonstrated no interest. I was college-bound and ended up in the U.S. Navy. After discharge from the Navy and working in a local hospital, a young firefighter came into the emergency room talking about a firefighter paramedic program.

I was hooked from that moment on and joined the Lacey (WA) Fire Department in 1974 as a paramedic/firefighter. I soon found out, the learning had just begun and it has never stopped. My sources of education arrived from different avenues including Fire Engineering, a Dunn Donnelley publication, in those days that peaked my interest in what the fire service was about from the numerous articles written by ordinary firefighters with something to share. Although we were the same in many respects, each area of the country did things a bit different and Fire Engineering offered a forum in which to share that knowledge.

After a pretty exciting career as a firefighter/paramedic, and a ton of advanced education including a law degree, I wanted to give something back to the fire service. Yes, I was the Training Chief for the training division for my last employer, ensuring both volunteer and career firefighters were well trained and safe at the scene of a fire. I was fortunate enough to have a small staff and 200 firefighters that assisted in the training events. In every station there were books and magazines especially Fire Engineering advancing the knowledge of the firefighter. My budget included sufficient money for books and magazines but I was especially interested in Fire Engineering due to the quality of the material. The articles became more professional and were written by the biggest names in our industry, names we still hear today. However, there were plenty of articles from the smaller to medium sized departments with important lessons to impart on young and old firefighters alike.

My exposure to FDIC came early in my career but was unable to attend due to budget concerns. We did attend local conferences but the national conferences were out of the question. I finally had the opportunity to attend my first FDIC in 2008 at the invitation of Chip Comstock who was gathering a bunch of attorneys to present a legal panel as one of the features of the conference. Those included were Chip Comstock, Brad Pinsky, Curt Varone, Mark Robens and Gerald Duff. We had our fifteen minutes of fame on a stage in front of hundreds of firefighters discussing legal issues in the fire service. One of the first time, legal issues were a main part of FDIC and the rest is history. Legal issues and several prominent attorneys are featured at each FDIC conference. I have had the great honor of being a part of that history and have become a frequent blogger and a member of Fire Service Court Radio on Blog Talk Radio.

One of the things I admire about FDIC is the willingness to have the tough discussions and presentations. The latest one is the discussion in Behavioral Health and Firefighter Suicide initially presented by Dr. Beth Murphy a retired firefighter. FDIC 2016 had 5 different presentations on firefighter mental health and a large panel discussion discussing the issue facing today’s fire service – mental health and suicide. I applaud the courage of the FDIC staff to make this a discussible issue in today’s fire service.

One hundred and forty years and 90 years of that including FDIC is a major accomplishment when periodicals come and go and conferences fade over time do to the lack of material or interest. Every year I attend FDIC, I am amazed that it gets bigger and more interesting attracting thousands of like-minded firefighters. Learning, teaching, hanging out and participating in the greatest educational show on earth.

Thank you for allowing me to participate in this event and as a contributor to Fire Engineering. There is no greater honor than “passing it on” to other firefighters and you provide that opportunity.

Tom Merrill, Snyder (NY) Fire Department: Wow! Fire Engineering is 140 years old and FDIC is celebrating its 90th birthday. Impressive and honorable milestones for sure. And, for the past 34 years, they have both been a big huge part of my firefighting career.

My first memories of Fire Engineering stem back to when I joined my volunteer firehouse back in 1982. Copies of the magazine were always easily found in our clubroom and TV room. As the firefighting bug slowly consumed me, I found myself picking up copies and immersing myself in each issue.  Of course, like so many others, I soon learned to read the last page first. That’s where Tom Brennan penned his famous “Random Thoughts” – short, informational articles that I found so valuable as a young firefighter just learning the ropes. Articles I still have and continue to reference even today!

A few years after joining, I was elected to the position of lieutenant and the magazine took on an even more important role for me. Because our department provides personal subscriptions for our officers, I now had the magazine delivered right to my doorstep. I found myself consulting the magazine for information to help me plan department training drills. I would even tear articles out and put them in file folders labeled by subject matter for future reference. Don’t laugh, but I still have them, albeit a bit yellowed and worn.

The magazine stayed by my side through my journey as Lieutenant, Captain, Assistant Chief and Chief of Department. Copies accompanied me on my travels to trade shows, conventions and even on family vacations. It continues today in my new role as a Fire Commissioner.  No mater what my official title is in the volunteer fire service, ultimately, I am still a firefighter and Fire Engineering will always be an extremely valuable resource for me that I greatly depend on. I eagerly look forward to each and every new issue.

The incredible FDIC experience has always been interwoven into the fabric of our firehouse. As a young firefighter, I would listen in awe as our department leaders came back from FDIC (then held in Cincinnati) all fired up, telling riveting stories of brotherhood, camaraderie, networking and most of all the unparalleled training opportunities.  They would bring back information, tactics and strategies that they learned and practiced at FDIC for further evaluation. Many were adopted and worked into our SOP’s and continue to be followed today.

When I became an officer I jumped at the opportunity to attend my first FDIC. I was hooked immediately! I now witnessed fist hand all the incredible training classes available. I remember being frustrated because there were more classes than there was time to take them (still true today). What impressed me more than anything though, was the ability to rub elbows and freely mingle with the instructors, even long after classes were over. Firefighters from every department type imaginable, big, small, paid, volunteer, combination mingling and networking with fire service legend and icons. Legends and icons that displayed incredible humility and exemplified the true meaning of brotherhood. True fire service leaders who thought nothing of taking the time to talk shop with simple volunteers like me at a local restaurant, FDIC sponsored event or even some random street corner. They were always there with a smile and hello to everyone they came across. One of my most cherished memories was having a quiet moment with the late great Andrew Fredericks during a break in the Engine Operations Class I took from him. What a great man. He easily could have simply hung out with his own peers and co-instructors. Yet, he thought nothing of taking the time to talk to me and to be genuinely interested in my department and our operations. That type of experience continues today and I witness it every year at FDIC.

With FDIC, you notice that friendly and inviting atmosphere carries over to the support staff and even everybody involved with the show. Heck, it even applies to the people in charge. One day, I happened to be in an elevator with a group of my firefighters when Bill Manning jumped aboard. At that time, Manning was the man in charge of FDIC, a real big deal. My group shyly moved to the side to give him room, and we all awkwardly looked at each other with unspoken commands to not say or do anything stupid in his presence. Mr. Manning immediately broke the ice, warmly smiled and introduced himself to us and made us feel so comfortable. He talked to us about the show and asked about our department and where we were from, only to discover that he attended college in our home city in Buffalo. You can learn a lot about people in a short elevator ride. We learned that the movers and shakers at FDIC are great people genuinely concerned and engaged with the fire service and with firefighters.

Heck it happened again several years ago at FDIC when Bobby Halton came walking down the street we were on. He stopped in his tracks to chat with us. Again, there was a Buffalo connection as we discovered Bobby’s wife was from the Buffalo area. But even with that connection aside, with just that little conversation, we had made a friend for life. That’s how it is at FDIC. You meet firefighters who from then on can be considered friends for life. We call that the FDIC experience and for anybody who has been there, you know all about the FDIC experience.

When picking up my first copy of this iconic magazine 34 years ago, or when first going to FDIC over 20-years ago, I could never have imagined that I would be invited to become involved with these two institutions. Chief Halton encouraged me to begin writing some articles and “The Professional Volunteer Fire Department” series was born. He then persuaded me to develop a presentation based on the articles. It’s incredibly humbling, certainly rewarding and I am absolutely honored to be able to do the writing and presenting for them. I was simply a fire chief in my local volunteer fire department. But, the folks at Fire Engineering and FDIC couldn’t care less if you are from a big department, small department, volunteer or paid. What matters the most is delivering a passionate message of importance to our great fire service. They stand ready to assist you in getting that message out, no matter what your role in the fire service and no matter what type of department you belong to.

It’s easy to see how both Fire Engineering and FDIC have reached these incredible birthday milestones as strong and as influential as ever. The impact they have both had on my firefighting career is immense. I am confident that impact and that influence will continue on with firefighters for generations to come. Happy Birthday!

Shawn Oke, Chief, Albemarle Fire Department: Wow, I finally made it to ‘The Big Show’! hose were my thoughts as I walked into the Indiana Convention Center in 2015. I had been in the paid fire service for twenty-six years and I was finally attending FDIC and I was going to be a presenter!  That day in 2015 ranks in the top five events of my great fire service career.  I remember as a kid in high school in the 80s subscribing to the major fire trade journals and quickly realizing that Fire Engineering was the journal for training.  I remember reading those articles early in my career and thinking to myself that I was one day going to be part of that great magazine and what it represented.  It would take much longer than I anticipated to realize my goal of being part of the ‘family’ but the important thing is that I made it.  

I got my first big shot at having my name in Fire Engineering in the July 2007 edition of the magazine.  Diane Feldman was writing The Fire Yenta column and in the May 2007 issue she wrote about a scene in the movie ‘I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’ where a copy of Fire Engineering was visible.  She stated the first person to email her with the location of the magazine would win a prize.  I happened to watch the movie trailer at work prior to reading the article and noticed the magazine in a scene.  I went back and watched the trailer again and sure enough there was a copy of the magazine on the coffee table in the dayroom in one of the scenes.    I quickly emailed Diane and informed her where the magazine could be seen in the movie.  The movie wasn’t slated to be released until the end of July so I think I ruined Diane’s plan when I emailed here well in advance of the movie release and informed her where the magazine was located.  I am guessing after reading The Fire Yenta in the July 2007 issue that I kind of messed things up and sent the answer too early.  It didn’t matter to me at the time because my name was in an article in Fire Engineering magazine!!  My name wasn’t at the bottom of an article that I had written training someone but my name was in Fire Engineering

Fast forward eight years and through a great series of events and blessings from God I was able to achieve my goal of becoming part of what Fire Engineering represents by presenting at FDIC.  In addition to presenting at FDIC this was my first chance to attend ‘The Big Show’.  I must admit my lack of attending FDIC throughout my career is one regret I have.  I honestly had that glazed over look at age 46 after seeing the show floor and attending classes.  I couldn’t imagine walking into the FDIC environment as a teenager and being part of all that FDIC has to provide.  I am honored to be able to present at FDIC 2017 and say that I have a very small part in the 90th year such a great program exists.  I am really hoping that my son, who recently went on the job, will be able to experience something his Dad didn’t get to experience, FDIC as a young career firefighter.  If he is able to attend I will be sure and look for that glazed over look that I had when I first laid eyes on everything that FDIC represents. 

Thank you to everyone throughout the years that has worked so hard to make Fire Engineering and FDIC,‘The Big Show.’

Art Bloomer, Kearny (NJ) Fire Department: It truly is a great accomplishment for a magazine to be around for 140 years, and I think maybe even a greater one for an event such as FDIC to be celebrating it’s 90th year.  I came to my first FDIC almost 25 years ago. I had been in the fire service for almost 15 years at that time, and while I am a forth generation firefighter, that I wasn’t getting everything out of the job that I could, and without doubt not putting much back in. I had just moved down to the Jesrey Shore, and had joined the local volunteer fire department, and right away they asked me to teach them some “tricks of the trade” since I was a career guy. So as I was looking thru a few older issues of Fire Engineering to get a few ideas, I came across the ads for FDIC. This was well before the interweb really took off…so it was kind of new to me. I made arrangements to go the next year, and have not missed one since. I think the most memorable experience I have is the first time I was accepted to come out and teach after a few try’s with proposals. My first time teaching out there was an eye opening experience, and just a bit scary too. since then, I have been very lucky to have been brought back many times as both a Hands On and Classroom Instructor. In more recent years I have also spent many hours with the FDIC Pipes and Drums bringing that tradition to all our Brothers and Sisters that attend. It’s impossible to describe the pride that I feel at each and every Opening Ceremony as I fire up my pipes to play Amazing Grace with the massed band. I can’t wait to get out to Indy each and every year to recharge my batteries. And maybe someday…Diane and Bobby will let me teach my class while wearing my kilt.


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