Company Officer’s Duties Defined, Evaluated at ISFSI Fall Conference
The company officer was dissected, examined in detail and reassembled at the fall conference of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors at Denver, Nov. 1-4.
Conceding that he must be a fire-ground tactician, the speakers emphasized time after time that the company officer of the ’80s must be a supervisor, administrator and instructor because the increasing needs of the fire service demand these capabilities.
Although the fire service is generally regarded as unique by its members, that uniqueness is “mostly sociological” and successful business management techniques can be applied to the fire service, Chief Alan Brunacini of Phoenix told the instructors. In making this point, he drew parallels between operating fire stations and McDonald’s restaurants, which outnumber fire stations in Phoenix, 36-34.
Brunacini declared that, like McDonald’s, “everything we do, we do with people.” Other likenesses, he said, included clearly defined ranks, a limited set of products or services, measurable results, high initial investment and operating costs, and standard procedures and training.
The chief stated that officer training should center on five basic demands: “Tell me what you want; tell me how to do it; give me the tools; get the hell out of my way; and tell me how I did it.”
“When the organization supplies these five, companies consistently achieve objectives,” Brunacini remarked.
He said a basic rule is to do everything possible to help the company officer to be successful and when a company officer fails, you should ask, “Who taught him to do it?”
Brunacini viewed the company captain as the key person in solving the general problem of managing nonemergency time and regarded him also as the company safety and welfare officer—“hopefully by personal example.”
Gordon Vickery, administrator of the United States Fire Administration, cited communications as a major problem and conceded, “We simply are not meeting with and communicating with the people out in the field.”
Won’t please everyone
The USFA administrator cautioned, “We are not going to do everything everyone wants,” and he predicted, “as we get into education and training, that’s where we’ll probably have some differences” with the instructors in his audience.
Vickery told the instructors that the USFA “is going to amplify and intensify EMS training” and is going to give attention to women in the fire service. He reported that nationally there are about 130 to 135 women in the paid fire service and more are entering each month.
In discussing the admissions policy for the National Fire Academy, Vickery said that the present plan is to have the chief of the department or the state training director certify the applicants for training. The academy will offer three areas of training—fire fighting control and prevention, training the trainers, and executive management. Vickery said that students in the training the trainers programs will be asked to train 100 other fire fighters when they return home. He pointed out that the executive management program is in the pilot course stage and will be ready to go by January 1.
Commenting that the NFA had a morale problem which no longer exists, Vickery commented, “I think the academy has been a mess for the past four years… We started from scratch, literally. We had, I think, eight professionals there last May.”
Vickery expected that there will be 35 to 40 resident faculty at Emmitsburg and there will be 200 to 250 adjunct faculty who will teach about one month a year.
Vickery predicted that as a result of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant report by a presidential commission, the fire service is expected to acquire a major training responsibility through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was identified by the report as the agency for authorizing and approving emergency plans for nuclear plants.
Nuclear evacuation plan
“The aspects of a major evacuation plan are staggering,” Robert Peterson, coordinator, Cumberland County, Pa., Fire Training Program, commented in describing how such a plan was developed in his county during the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant incident. In the first phase of the plan, affecting a 20-mile radius, fire companies were to be placed on alert. In the second phase, the companies would assist the evacuation of the population, and in the third phase, the companies would leave their areas by company units. Reserve apparatus also would be withdrawn to avoid contamination.
Peterson said that the task force concept was the key to the fire service part of the evacuation plan. The plan established five-man engine companies, four-man truck companies, and two-man squads, ambulances and tankers. The maximum shift was established at eight hours, with shorter shifts determined by radiation readings. Task force commanders were to change with each shift. Fire and police protection was to be provided in areas evacuated by civilians until radiation reached a level calling for total withdrawal, Peterson explained.
A basic assumption, he said, was that fire fighters’ families would be evacuated while the fire fighters remained on duty. A mass care center would provide food, fuel and clothing for the fire fighters.
“We felt very confident it would have worked,” Peterson said of the plan.
The avoidance of a company officer problem, declared Assistant Chief Carl Holmes of Oklahoma City, requires a managerial and supervisory training program and meaningful goals. This must start with the training officer and, Holmes predicted, it may have to start with the training officer motivating the chief. With personnel needs changing “so drastically” in the last five years, he saw a need to add human and conceptual skills to the technical skills of officers.
Holmes viewed the lack of motivation of officers as “one of the greatest problems facing the fire service today” and he voiced the need to “motivate all levels of the fire service.”
He pointed out that the company officer’s role has to be defined and that one of the company officer’s responsibilities is to develop motivation in his company. Predicting a “drastic shortage of fire officials,” Holmes urged the grooming of company officers to be future leaders and commented, “If you allow them latitude to make independent judgments within bounds, you may not like what company officers do at first, but they will improve.”
Room for decisions
In the same vein, Captain George Malik of Chicago, chief of fire academy operations, declared that an effort should be made “to avoid squeezing the company officer” and give him room to make decisions. If we lead him in the right direction, Malik predicted, “the company officer of tomorrow will be akin to the junior executive of big business.”
Pointing out that an effective company officer is also a teacher, Malik said that “educated man” is—or could be— the description of today’s company officer. Malik noted that modern education has provided tools, such as motivation, consciousness raising, research and awareness of the needs of the individual, to assist officers in becoming more effective.
Stressing the need to motivate officers to improve their capabilities, Lawrence Davis, chairman of the ISFSI Volunteer Section, commented that it “is difficult to be a fireground commander at the end of a hose line and that’s why we are losing the buildings.”
Davis declared that the man in charge of the first-in apparatus has a particularly important role because fireground command starts with him and is then expanded as other companies and chief officers arrive. In rural areas, where an officer may not be on the first-in apparatus, “each and every man has to be trained as a fireground commander,” the speaker advised.
Urging the instructors to challenge old ideas and discard those that are no longer pertinent, Davis made a plea to teach rural fire departments what they should be doing as professionals. He cautioned that the people moving into rural areas expect volunteer fire fighters to perform at a professional level. He told of damage suits, one for $1.1 million and another for $200,000, that had been brought against two small town fire departments because of alleged improper fire fighting strategy.
Davis also condemned the use of high-pressure lines when a fire requires large volumes of water and declared, “The fire service—paid and volunteer—in this country does not need garden hose to fight fire.”
EMS in fire service
With 17,200 fire departments now providing some form of emergency medical service, said James Page, executive director of the Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation (ACT) in Basking Ridge, N.J., “It’s too late to ask the question if EMS belongs in the fire service.”
Page pointed out that fire departments that have a dual function are in “much less peril” of manpower cuts and he observed, “The fire service no longer exists—at least in urban areas—as a single function agency.”
The speaker stated that a fire officer must become knowledgeable about EMS management principles and that this requires self-motivated reading, commitment and intellectual curiosity. Page also said that the officer must be informed about his department’s EMS goals and observed that “in many cases, he has not” been informed.
Providing transportation, Page advised, greatly increases the public abuse and the cost of EMS. He also saw dual fire fighter/paramedic roles as practical and commented, “It’s a relatively simple matter to train fire fighters as EMTs.”
Hydraulics for officers
The need for a short course in hydraulics for company officers was defined by Chief Warren E. Isman, director of the Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue Services. First, he explained, you have to recognize that the fire officer needs a knowledge of hydraulics to make basic tactical decisions on the fireground. Secondly, the course must be designed so that it “is not a pump operator’s course.”
Isman recommended discussions of nozzle designs and the water-carrying capabilities of various sizes of hose as topics that should be in an officer’s course. He commented that the basic problem of automated tips is that company officers don’t know their tactical use, and he advised that if variable flow nozzles are issued to companies, the officers must be taught to know when the various flows should be used.
“We forget there are some basic things we fail to remind officers about,” Isman said.
He cited the importance of tip size on aerial ladder stability and urged that all company officers be trained to conduct a service test of a pump.
The company officer’s responsibility in detecting arson was detailed by Robert Carter of the National Fire Protection Association, who declared, “It is my firm belief that the beginning and end of any investigation starts with the fire fighter and the company officer.”
Carter stated that the responsibility for training the fire fighter in arson detection must be defined and he stressed that training in arson detection basics is a large segment of what needs to be done to reduce the arson problem. He pointed out that in many cases, no investigation will be made if the men in the fire company do not first detect arson.
The company officer, Carter said, has an obligation to make an analysis of the fire scene to identify the questionable character of the fire, and because of court decisions, he should stay on the scene to await the arrival of a fire investigator. Carter told the instructors that he felt there was a definite obligation for them to train personnel in arson detection skills.
A formidable picture of the problems facing the officer newly assigned to an airport fire station was drawn by Assistant Chief Dale W. Osbaugh of the Denver Fire Department, who is assigned to Stapleton International Airport. The officer, Osbaugh remarked, finds he is not trained for crash crew work, he has “to learn his job on his own,” and “he and his men must perform without error.”
Osbaugh advised officers to base their training on NFPA Standards 402, 403 and 1003, pertaining to airport fire fighting and rescue operations and personnel standards, and FAA Pamphlet 139. He commented that the crash crew officer must have the support of his superiors to implement his training plan and make it work. Any airport management that tries to shortchange the training budget is just kidding itself, Osbaugh declared.
The speaker charged that the biggest shortcoming in airport fire fighting nationwide is a lack of mutual aid from surrounding fire departments. Osbaugh also pointed out that the FAA-required airport emergency plan must clearly define the responsibility of all agencies involved in airport operations and that the fire department is in charge after ignition.
Charging that “there is apathy in the fire service and there is apathy in industry,” Chief Anthony Semenza of Chevron, USA called for pre-fire planning of industrial sites by company officers as a way to reduce industrial fire losses. He pointed out that industry as a category has the fourth largest number of fires and the third largest dollar loss in United States fire statistics.
Semenza viewed motivation as the problem in attaining greater consideration of industrial fire losses and told the instructors that they could be the catalyst that could solve this problem. He told them that they have to convince their chief and company officers that it is worthwhile to go out and develop a pre-fire plan of an industrial plant. He also cautioned the instructors that it is necessary to convince industrial managers of the value of pre-fire planning.
Semenza said that it is a company officer’s job to work in cooperation with industry and while the pre-fire plan is advantageous when made, the company officer must return to the plant from time to time to check for any changes in plant use or operations that could affect the plan.
Communications in fire companies were discussed by Captain Marion Davie of Denver and Lieutenant Carl Smith of Aurora, Colo. Both agreed that an officer must be able to communicate effectively if his company is going to operate efficiently.
Davie pointed out that the officer has two areas of communication in a company—with the group and with individuals—and commented, “If you can’t do it (communicate) well in the firehouse, it’s very difficult to do it on the fireground.” He said that an officer coming on duty must take time to understand verbal reports and to read written communications. He also urged officers to ascertain the facts about rumors and then report them to his men.
Smith noted that company officers communicate with the public as well as with their companies and he urged officers to broaden their horizons by extending their reading beyond the fire service.
Declaring that “in-service training by the company officer is essential” to support drill ground training, Lieutenant Daniel B. C. Gardiner of Fairfield, Conn., stressed the need for company training to be qualitative, not just quantitative. Therefore, he advised company officers to plan a program that is sequential, continuous, up to date and in line with recognized standards.
“If company officers wait for the chief of training to hand down written, bound materials, then we all may well go back to sleep,” he declared.
Noting that most evolutions can be done in and around the fire station, including teaching fire stream techniques on the ramp or station parking lot, Gardiner also advised the company officer to plan for unusual emergencies. “A little pre-planning carried out by the company officer will go a long way” in eliminating the classic excuse, “If I had only known,” he advised.
In discussing shopping mall fires, Chief Roger A. McGary of Tacoma Park, Md., cited the three major causes of large losses as lack of sprinklers, poor construction and inadequate fire alarm systems—usually a local alarm that alerts only people on the premises.
McGary urged making pre-fire plans that consider automatic protection, long hose stretches, hose line placement, water supply, ventilation, and command post location. He stressed the importance of ventilation in shopping malls and added, “If you can’t ventilate it, you can’t control it.”
Looking behind sales areas and above suspended ceilings, McGary suggested, is necessary to get a true understanding of the fire potential of shopping mall construction. He said large shopping mall fires show that “the major problem is the lack of automatic protection.”
In the face of the relatively new experience of damage suits against fire departments, legal advice should be obtained to develop a comprehensive insurance portfolio, advised Robert Little of the Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Services. He also recommended maintaining good records to help lawyers prepare a legal defense in these days when both courts and legislatures are reducing governmental immunity.
“In recent years, liability has become the concern of every fire officer who has kept up with the news of the day,” Little observed.
He urged departments providing emergency medical service to acquire malpractice insurance and cited suits brought against fire departments to emphasize the need for insurance covering general liability—involving negligence—in operations on and off the fireground, as well as coverage for professional liability—based on errors and omissions in operations.
Driver training can be done well by company officers, who have the closest contact with the potential drivers, said Bob Patterson, an instructor with the Fire Service Extension of Iowa State University. In developing a driver-training program, he advised obtaining information from the Department of Transportation, IFSTA manuals, the state fire training agency and colleges, as well as discussing the program with the police department, insurance companies and the local school driver education instructor.
Patterson noted that the only physical equipment needed for driver training is a parking lot, pylons and apparatus. In addition to classroom discussion, the trainee should acquire a knowledge of the mechanics of his apparatus on the truck floor because “maintenance is an important part of driving.”
In discussing the role of a state training agency, Bruce Peringer, state supervisor of fire service training in Kentucky, said that basic training has been identified as the primary need to be fulfilled. He ascribed this to the large turnover of personnel in volunteer departments.
“Once we meet basic skills needs, we need specialist training programs,” he added and commented, “No one fire department can afford a specialist instructor for every topic.”
He saw the state training agency not only as a resource center for course outlines, training aids and handout materials, but also as part of the national delivery system for National Fire Academy courses.
If a company officer is going to train his men effectively, he should have some basic knowledge of the concepts of teaching and, said Joseph Lewand, manager of Colorado Fire Service Training, his agency provided this by arranging for the University of Colorado to conduct weekend courses in teacher training at a cost of only $35 a student.
“If we’re going to train people, let’s have company officers who know how to teach,” Lewand declared.