FDIC Conference Director Diane Rothschild recently spoke with Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder of the Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department, who will be the recipient of the 2018 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award at the FDIC 2018 General Session, about the whole FDIC “experience.”
DR: How long have you been teaching/attending FDIC?
BG: My first participation as an instructor at FDIC was in 1982. My first attendance at FDIC was in 1977 and I have never missed one.
DR: How did you get into instructing in general?
BG: I think that I naturally like to share/pass on information that’s of value and always have regardless of my rank. I was given a chance to do some basic firefighter training as a firefighter starting in 1977 and have enjoying instructing ever since, but I only instruct on things I have genuine and proven knowledge, training, and experience with. For example, I’m not your high-rise guy! I am very lucky to have had some phenomenal instructors provide me with ideas, guidance and direction. FDIC veterans like Chief Jim Murtagh, Carl Holmes, Bill Shoudis, John Salka, Alan Brunacini, Burt Clark, Dennis Compton, Jim Smith, Frank Montagna, Jack McElfish, Garry Briese, Ott Huber, and others are among many who really helped me understand the responsibilities of a good fire instructor.
DR: What sets your experience at FDIC apart from attending other conferences?
BG: I think it’s my years of attending is what sets it apart. A few years ago, I started calling FDIC the “We Give a Damn Conference” because the great majority of attendees are there because they want to be–many paying their own way. It’s the gung ho, active, “into the job” folks, and I have found that since my first FDIC in 1977. FDIC covers every role at every level–there is no subject that is not covered–and covered by those who have been there and done that. When I went to my first FDIC in Memphis in 1977, I was blown away to find “others like me” who really have a love for this job. By the way, one of the coolest things we used to do (in the 1970s) at FDIC is that we would all bring our slide trays–piles and piles of slide trays–and at night we’d meet at different hotels and trade slides, share ideas, and pass it on …we’d show each other what we were doing and man did that create some lifetime friendships. And the shared ideas benefited our firefighters when we got home. Today it’s done at FDIC via smartphones, texting, and sharing files, but it still gets done!
DR: What was your reaction to being selected to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award?
BG: Well, I think you were on that call–I cussed. I tend to do that … and I’m still not sure I have fully grasped it. I’m beyond honored, thankful, and very appreciative. You have to understand that there have been a few along the way who didn’t support my interest and enthusiasm and tried to break me or downplay my spirit … and that always fired me up even more. I have had people “annoyed” that I love what I do. In taking care of my firefighters, I had a city manager once tell me to act more like a municipal fire chief and less like a union president (something I’ve never been) and I always thought his comments were exactly what I wanted to be seen as–an advocate for our firefighters. I had an employee (who I refused to call a firefighter) tell me that this is just a job and I should stop portraying it to be any more. My excitement and enthusiasm annoyed that person. That person quickly became a former employee. Since hearing about this award nomination, I have also thought about the fact that I have always had sincere and proven love and have great enthusiasm for what I do, so to be recognized for making a difference by doing what you love? I am very, very fortunate. Never give up. Ever.
DR: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the fire service today and why?
BG: 1-A disciplined fireground. We still need to push harder for strict, no-nonsense command, communication, and control on the fireground by trained and competent fire officers. We still see examples of the “fireground playground” mentality, and while we as a service are definitely getting better, we have more work to do.
2-The volunteer fire service is on life support and, with few exceptions, is in very serious trouble. Volunteer departments were formed to meet the needs of their community. Since the community and society have changed, so must the volunteer fire service. It’s a matter of doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of those who call 911, not the personal needs of those who may or may not answer the call. There are ways to solve the problem while still using volunteers, but the organization must be willing to evolve and meet the needs of the callers. There are many solutions. Some cost money and some cost nothing than an attitude of meeting the public’s needs.
DR: What is your “takeaway” from a week at FDIC?
BG: Wow, that’s a loaded question. Generally, I tell people that there are 2.5 levels to FDIC.
1-Attend the classes that apply to you but not something you have attended already. Diversify with a different instructor, class, or both–expand the horizons. On the other hand, if you have no chance of fighting a ship fire or high-rise, attend those that more appropriately match your role. Time is precious at FDIC.
2-Talk to people. Reach out. Ask questions of the other attendees. 50% of FDIC is meeting new firefighters and sharing ideas on how you/they do things. You will also then find out much more about your own department by learning about others … and I don’t mean in the same county. Meet someone from the complete opposite vicinity of where you work and live. California? Talk to Boston. New York? Talk to New Mexico. Maine? Talk to Hawaii. Don’ be shy–you have ONE WEEK to pull this off and gain as much as possible.
1/2: The .5 is being ready for the apathy factor when you get home. You will be filled with piss and vinegar as you should be at FDIC, but then when you get home you’ll hear, “That won’t work here” or whatever BS people may come up with. THAT is when you get on the phone with your instructors (bring plenty of business cards to trade!) and the new brothers and sisters you met. Trust me, those are friends for life, and they’ll help you get past the naysayers and make the impact you want with what you learned at FDIC!
DR: Who are your FDIC role models and why?
BG: Wow…so many. Such people from “back in the day” like Lee Hustead, Matt Jackson, Lou Amibili, Carl Holmes, Jack McElfish, Denis Onieal, Frank Brannigan, Larry Davis, Boone Gardner, Skip Coleman, Ronny Coleman, and Jim Murtagh to people more recently such as Gordon Graham, Ron Spadafora, Frank Montagna, Billy Gustin, Steve Pegram, Brian Kazmierzak, Mike Dugan, Dan Madrzykowski, Rich Marinucci, Jack Murphy, Frank Ricci, and so many more who really helped me understand how much there is to learn–and my/our learning never stops. Ever. And notice that some of my role models are significantly younger than me, which means nothing. It’s their experiences and lessons that help me learn.
DR: What advice do you have for first-time attendees?
BG: Size up the FDIC program prior to arrival and determine your plan. Sign up for the HOT and workshop sessions now. Then also determine exactly which classroom sessions you want to attend and develop the plan well before you arrive in Indy. Also, never miss any of the main sessions Thursday and Friday–that’s a must-do. There are also many evening activities and fundraisers such as the FF Cancer Support Network and the NFFF Stop, Drop, Rock and Roll. See my point? If you don’t plan ahead, you will never remember to do everything you wanted to. And also, don’t fail to block out several hours to attend the exhibits and specifically plan out in writing what vendors (and their booth numbers) you want to visit including the Fire Engineering Bookstore. It’s a busy, busy full-throttle week, and if you don’t plan, it will be like arriving at a fire with no training or plan!
Presentation During the General Session
Thursday, April 26, 2018, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
Sagamore Ballroom 1-7, Indiana Convention Center
The Lifetime Achievement Award is named for Tom Brennan, who was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and a technical editor. Brennan had more than 35 years of fire service experience, including more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York and five years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995) and the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award.