53rd FDIC Hears Speakers Blend Human Behavior With Technology

53rd FDIC Hears Speakers Blend Human Behavior With Technology


Ed McCormackSherman PickardDr. Allan Davidson

It’s time to look closer at the people side of the fire problem, declared Ed McCormack, International Society of Fire Service Instructors secretary, during the opening ceremonies of the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Memphis March 15-19.

Fire instructors have been attending FDIC for over half a century to learn innovative methods of communicating the technology of fire protection. But technology alone is not the answer, McCormack said. It is necessary to understand the nature of human behavior before it can be modified.

Motivation, cooperation and planning became the key words of this conference.

The keynoter, Dave Yoho, a motivation specialist, warned that many attendees would become enthusiastic about concepts learned at the conference but would encounter walls of resistance back home. Yoho challenged the audience to understand why resistance to any new idea occurs and to prepare for it. His advice was that new ideas must be sold to others.

Greatest asset is people

Motivation and attitudes were discussed by Sherman Pickard, director of services for the North Carolina League of Municipalities.

Difficulties could arise between a fire officer and fire fighter if the officer expects the fire fighter to be motivated by one thing but it doesn’t work. For example, what if the officer, himself motivated by a need for security and a higher salary, assumes that the fire fighter responds to the same motivations? If the fire fighter is really motivated most by feelings of achievement and recognition, then misunderstandings and frictions are predictable.

Pickard’s survey of so large a group will be added to others he has administered to give a strong statistical indication of what actually motivates different levels or ages of fire personnel. It is important to know these things, Pickard believes, because people are the greatest asset of the fire service.

“The most dramatic change in the fire service during the last 10 or 20 years, Pickard continued, “is the application of personnel management principles.” Armed with accurate information about human behavior, the fire service, he believes, can work smarter rather than harder.

Fire fighters are human

Another misconception about fire fighters is that they can participate in even the most terrible disaster involving unspeakable human carnage without feeling any emotion or stress. Not so, said Dr. Alan Davidson, a San Diego psychologist.

Davidson became closely associated with the fire service after the 1978 crash of a Pacific Southwest Airlines plane and the death of all aboard. He described that incident and his role in coordinating emergency psychological services offered to all rescue personnel. For the first time wide attention was focused on disaster-related stress.

Honorary chief’s badge is presented by Memphis Director of Fire Robert W. Walker to Chief Alan Brunacini of Phoenix.FDIC Chairman Harold G. Thompson, left, Georgia Fire Academy director and ISFSI president, also receives honorary chief's badge.Patricia MieszalaFire Marshal James DaltonCharles Massey

“Individual responses to disasters are nonpredictable,” Davidson began, “but one thing that is predictable is that you will have powerful and disorganizing and, at times, overwhelming reaction to a major disaster. No one who is submitted to the kind of horror that comes from such a crash is able to insulate himself from his reaction. The sight of total disintegration of so many human beings is something none of us has experience with.”

The first result of the no-survivor crash was a tremendous sense of futility and then anger, he went on, warning that it may take up to a few years for some stress-related problems to fully surface. A major goal of Davidson’s work has been the inclusion of psychologists and other mental health professionals in consultation with offices of disaster preparedness.

Brunacini’s big five

To better understand company officers was the object of an earlier survey in the Phoenix, Ariz., Fire Department. Chief Alan Brunacini reported the resulting profile and discussed other factors relating to company officers.

The statistically average company officer in Phoenix is 38, weighs 181 pounds and stands 5 feet 10 inches tall. He has two years of college and 2.6 children. The difficulty of having 2.6 children was noted with a humorous Brunacini comment.

Company officers not surprisinglyindicated that they liked fire fighting duties most and administrative duties least. Brunacini suggested that chief officers be sensitive to that attitude about paperwork. For all duties, the Phoenix company officer averages $25,000 per year.

Motivation was said to be especially important in company officers. Managers should try to maximize the company officer’s ability to sell and support management’s policies. It is difficult because he lives with the troops. “The officer must be trained to deal realistically with fire station sociology,” Brunacini added.

Oversupervision won’t work, he continued, “because a ‘captive’ fire fighter can screw up any program or policy. They cannot be guarded like prisoners.”

When the company officer fails, however, the question must be asked: Who taught him how to do it? If the failure can be traced to inadequate training, then it points to organizational problems. Senior management is responsible for training agendas.

Brunacini closed with his big five principles, as spoken by the company officer to senior management:

  1. Tell me what you want.
  2. Train me to do it.
  3. Give me the tools.
  4. Get the hell out of my way.
  5. Tell me how I did.

Not enough change?

Change—or the lack of it—was the subject of a presentation by Fire Marshal James Dalton, with the Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue Services. He said that the way it was when he started in the fire service 20 years ago is too often the way it still is now. Indeed, some suppression forces tried to resist every development that was proposed, although SCBA, better helmets, fog nozzles and 1 ‘⅛-inch hose lines are now being used to advantage.

Instead of resisting change, Dalton said the fire service should get involved in public fire safety education. “We know what is burning and when; how many die and where.” But first the fire service must educate itself better, Dalton said, decrying how much money and time has been spent on debating the proper length of hair and the role of females.

The 20-year retirement was described as one of the worst changes in the fire service by Dalton, who said it is a serious and unnecessary loss when the welltrained person in the prime of life is allowed to walk away from the job he does best.

But age can be a problem, too. Dalton blasted old chiefs who have stagnated and who hold back more energetic individuals in a department. He cautioned that the problem was not a matter of chronological age but of those who, at whatever age or for whatever reason, have lost the spark of creativity and have had no new ideas for years.

Counseling juvenile firesetters

It’s time to give more attention to juvenile firesetters, according to Patricia Mieszala, R.N., a psychiatric burn nurse clinician from Cook County Hospital Burn Center in Chicago. In this area, too, the problem must be viewed more with an understanding of human behavior than with an expertise in fire services technology.

Perhaps 60 percent of firesetting is by juveniles. The most prominent profile for a juvenile firesetter is a 7 to 10year-old male from a broken home living with a single parent. Their motives range from revenge and jealousy to peer pressure or a quest for attention.

When caught they are usually punished but are seldom counseled. This is unfortunate, says Mieszala, because the punishment doesn’t change the behavior. The underlying problems are still there. Later, she says, “The grown-up firesetter becomes more creative when challenged more to escape detection.”

Counseling was said to be an effective strategy. A Los Angeles County counseling program was reported to have significantly reduced juvenile firesetting by changing the attitudes of juveniles.

The fire department role is to recognize the problems leading to firesetting, interview the affected children and families, and select those needing professional counseling to curb the child’s maliciousness. Mieszala believes the result will be a better adjusted child capable of a proper respect and use of fire.

Louis AmablliCharles WrightDep. Chief John Pappageorge

Arson for profit was discussed by Charles Massey of the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute (ICPI). He suggested more cooperation between fire departments and ICPI, which has been training adjustors more to detect arson. ICPI can also provide additional investigators to work with fire departments, as well as training aids and handouts. Fire departments, insurance companies and the public have much to lose if arson is not better controlled.

An act of arson is not hard to prove; the difficult task is proving who. Massey said complete and computerized insurance loss records will allow an automatic scan to reveal multiple claims by some individuals. They would receive closer scrutiny.

Even if an arson case is weak on technical legal grounds, fire departments and insurance companies can sometimes uncover evidence of fraud, which is easier to prove. Fraud documents may include altered receipts or statements.

Train crews can help

Cooperation is also a key to handling hazardous materials accidents in rail transportation, advised Charles Wright, supervisor of hazardous materials training for the Union Pacific Railroad Company. The railroad conducts seminars for local departments because it “recognizes that there are complex problems for all who assist us at incidents on our right-of-way,” Wright said.

In turn, he asked fire departments to try and establish a positive rapport with rail safety personnel. “Their advice may be rejected but their experience is certainly relevant,” he said.

At a rail accident, the Union Pacific train crew sets up a microwave communications link to their base and can inform the Fire department about the nature of the cargo. Different railroads store cargo information in various locations, so Wright suggested that each department pre-plan with the particular railroad serving its area.

“If you haven’t defined your own hazardous materials problem,” Wright continued, “you’ve got work to do. And you must have a strong management commitment.”

Although 1.1 million cars carried hazardous materials last year, not including petroleum, only 165 cars released their contents and 800 leaked or splashed some content. Nevertheless, because of the potential for major catastrophe, each fire department must be ready to deal with any emergency, concluded Wright.

It can happen again

“Even after this major incident, some in your community will still say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Yet there are 11,500 hotel and motel fires each year. That’s 32 per day,” said Deputy Chief John Pappageorge, Clark County, Nev., Fire Department, after he discussed the lessons from the MGM hotel fire.

His department was as prepared as possible with a disaster plan in effect since 1973. But what the fire fighters faced was an incredibly fast-spreading fire that soon had 76,000 square feet of area burning in a 2-million-square-foot structure. It took 27,000 feet of hose to pump over 1.5 million gallons of water to extinguish the fire.

In this case, Pappageorge explained, fire fighting generally had to come before rescue. Operations were made even more difficult by the debris and broken glass falling on the fire fighters.

An unexpected difficulty arose during the roof rescue by helicopters when the big military craft created 100-mph downdrafts and noise problems affecting communications between fire fighters. Yet overall cooperation between the many different rescue or fire fighting groups was good.

Asst. Chief Miles YoungDon EckentelderRobert BarracloughCarrol L. Herring, right, director of the Louisiana State U. Firemen’s Training program, receives the Hudiberg Award for Service to the International Fire Service Training Association from Howard Boyd, chairman of the IFSTA executive board.Instructor of the Year Award by the R. J. Brady Company is presented to Billy W. Harris, left, of the Nikiski, Alaska, Fire Department by George W. Post, retired vice president of the Brady Company.

Pre-fire plan pays off

Logistical difficulties were also experienced at the Amoco Chemical Plant in Delaware, as described by Lou Amabili, director of the Delaware State Fire School. The in-plant fire protection systems were knocked out by an explosion at the beginning of the incident, and the plant fire brigade was almost wiped out. Surviving members were injured or in shock and could not give reliable information to responding fire fighters.

The value of a pre-fire plan was emphasized by Amabili. The total response team of fire, police and other emergency workers numbered a thousand from four states during the 11-hour operation. A volunteer fire chief was in control.

Heavier than air

Aircraft incidents, discussed by Assistant Chief Miles Young from Andrews Air Force Base in Virginia, are yet another occasion where pre-fire planning is necessary. Although most accidents occur within 10 miles of airports, especially related to landings, Young showed slides to remind all fire departments that a plane could come down anywhere.

Planning should include an awareness of the types of aircraft using a local airport so that means of entry are well known. Young indicated how cutting into some aircraft at the wrong point could sever hydraulic or fuel lines.

Some aircraft have thousands of gallons of fuel, perhaps hundreds of persons on board and complex oxygen and electrical systems. Just as any department would pre-fire plan a building with similar considerations, Young insisted that aircraft types be preplanned. In fact, anyone attempting to operate around a crashed military plane without having preplanned for the details of the craft is asking for serious trouble.

But it’s the general aviation type of smaller craft that is most likely to come down in any department’s territory, if only because there are so many of them flying.

Calling for cooperation

It should be no surprise that when the speaker on industrial fire protection stood up, he too called for a spirit of cooperation with the local fire department. In line with the conference opening remarks by McCormack, many advantages were to be gained by working on the people and social aspects of fire protection as well as the technical items.

Don Eckenfelder, manager of loss prevention at Chesebrough-Ponds and president-elect of the American Society of Safety Engineers, reminded attendees that while insurance covers property and even business interruption losses until a plant resumes operations, it doesn’t protect against the loss of momentum and market share that any product had gained before the fire. Purchaser loyalties can be lost, so industry is very much interested in working with the fire department to avoid all fires.

Cooperation begins with examining existing perceptions to see if they are correct, Eckenfelder said. His perceptions of the fire service are: hazardous work, not appreciated enough, underpaid, victim of changing values, underutilized for prevention, and inefficient and confused administration.

Industry, he thinks, has a strong profit motive and executives don’t like surprises or bad publicity and are comfortable with tradition. Fire officers should try to relate to these items.

When talking with industrial management about fire safety, Eckenfelder suggested that fire officers be specific rather than general. Be a problemsolver,” he said. “Offer to help implement a desired action and your recommendation will be better received by management.”

As specified

The technical world of fire apparatus specifications was discussed by Bob Barraclough, vice president of marketing at Hale Fire Pumps. To begin, he described two somber realities: “Everything costs more than you think, and everything takes longer than you think.”

For a fire department’s protection, Barraclough added, it should always require a bid bond and a performance bond to assure that a manufacturer will build the apparatus as specified and at the price specified.

Barraclough also related trends he sees in apparatus design. Gasoline and non-turbocharged diesel engines are fading from the scene, as are nonautomatic transmissions. The latter, however, is not without some disadvantages in that shifting errors involving engaging the pump incorrectly are slightly harder to detect. This may only be discovered when the operator attempts to accelerate the pump—and the apparatus starts moving.

Other trends include a preference for larger gages, up to 6 inches, and downward-angled valves to prevent kinked hose.

Some specifications, however, cannot be incorporated yet into fire apparatus design because of certain inhibiting federal regulations, Barraclough said.

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