ISFSI Hears Academy Prospects, Looks at Development of Instructors
Emphasis was on the development of instructors at the International Society of Fire Service Instructors Training Workshop and Fall Conference in Louisville Oct. 21-25.
A highlight of the conference was a talk by Fred Villella, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) associate director for training and education, who outlined the prospects of the National Fire Academy and then responded to questions from the audience for nearly an hour.
Declaring that the National Fire Academy “must be the center of excellence for the fire service of the country,” Villella pledged to work for a quality program at the academy.
He told the ISFSI that there are no major reductions in the academy budget, but he warned that there may be future budget cuts. However, he felt that FEMA Director Louis O. Giuffrida “has negotiated a pretty good settlement” with the budget people.
“Will they (the budget cuts) be significant? 1 don’t think so,” he said and added, “I think we’ll be OK.”
Summing up the situation, Villella pledged, “The only thing we can promise you … is to do the verv best job we can do.”
Villella urged the ISFSI members to provide input to National Fire Academy planning and declared, “Your input is as valuable as that of the guy sitting next to you.” In the question period after his formal talk, Villella again voiced the hope that fire service instructors will provide input.
“I mean that,” he declared and added, “We want you on the team with us. If you don’t like what we do, we want you to let us know.”
Villella said that the academy will emphasize train-the-trainer programs with handoff packages for local training. One of the objectives will be to move fire service training into the 21st century and make the best use of computer technology and even satellites. He also saw a need to do something jointly with emergency managers throughout the country, using the Emergency Management Institute—also located at Emmitsburg with the National Fire Academy—as a resource.
When asked whether the academy would expand its staff of permanent instructors, Villella commented that “your training must be contemporary” and in a fast-moving technological society, it is important to employ parttime instructors who can bring to the academy their experiences in the field to shore up experiences at the academy. He felt that the academy therefore would continue to hire part-time instructors as it has in the past.
Asked whether the emergency medical service programs would be expanded, Villella said he would try to do something for the program because he felt it would be a disservice to let it lapse.
Another questioner asked whether the academy’s emphasis would be on major incidents or day-to-day challenges. Villella responded that fire protection management and fire protection techniques are two major emphases of the academy and will continue to be. He pointed out that the emphasis has not been on day-to-day training of fire fighters.
In response to a question about Canadians going to the National Fire Academy, he recalled that Canadians have already attended courses at the academy and he felt that “we’d be delighted” to have Canadians “share in our educational experience” in the future.
Another questioner wanted to know why the academy was not addressing the fact that the United States has the worst fire problem in the world. Villella replied that the present administration has inherited the current federal focus on fire education and this was what the fire service sought.
“I would agree if you said we need to do more better… I’m in a hurry, as you are in a hurry,” he commented.
The difficulties associated with the so-called problem student were pinned to instructors by Dr. Jack McElroy of the University of Kentucky. He told his audience of fire instructors that “we create our own problems many times” through a lack of planning, evaluation, organization and drilling.
McElroy urged instructors to “analyze yourselves and try to be better than you are. An instructor should know his subject thoroughly, have a sincere interest in training, be adept in both listening and non-verbal communication skills, and “accept people the way they are,” he advised.
Request rather than command because students resent commands, McElroy urged, adding that instructors should be fair as well as firm but friendly. He recommended stressing students’ good points before criticizing their deficiencies.
“Our actions and our appearance are more important many times than what we say,” McElroy commented.
Taking a look at the future, Joseph Bachtler of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute deplored the declining authority of fire training program managers. He charged that their authority has slowly passed to the hands of budget analysts.
“The budget should be a reflection of your plan—not the other way around,” Bachtler told the instructors.
The speaker charged that sometimes program managers are too busy playing the budget analysts’ game instead of planning for their own needs. He also saw a danger of professional standards boxing instructors and hampering those instructors who do an outstanding job but don’t quite fit into the boxes established by the standards.
Not ail bad
Bachtler saw the days of budget increases as a thing of the past, but he commented that this is not entirely bad because it forces instructors to examine their training programs. He declared that those heading training programs have to look at what they are doing and determine whether it is relevant to the operational world.
“Most fire service training is superficial,” Bachtler said, because it doesn’t push students to the limits of their capabilities.
As budgets are cut, commented Chief Tom Hawkins of the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department, “We begin to realize that the most important resource we have is people.”
He said it was important that fire department managers recognize that people were different and managers must learn where their people are coming from and what their values are. Hawkins urged fire service leaders to recognize people as individuals and to “think about the group you are dealing with and the values they have.”
There are dramatic changes in the attitudes of the work forces, declared Chief Annie Murphy Springer of the Bodega, Calif., Fire Department, who said that young people are not necessarily looking for leadership positions. She added that more and more people are rejecting leadership, regardless of its style. And that fewer people feel that the organization will provide the resources required for them to do their job. Eighty percent of the workers, she continued, have expressed a need for the workplace to be human-oriented and have voiced a desire to be appreciated.
Springer advised that the younger people expect a participatory style of management and warned that fire department managers have to mean it when they offer involvement in decisions.
She observed there is growing resistance to routine tasks such as fire inspections and testing hose, and she saw a need to make the Fire service more interesting.
How a fire prevention campaign based on smoke detectors saved lives in Louisville was described by Captain Donald Cummins. All forms of the media were involved in the campaign which was expected to result in a 40 percent reduction in fire deaths.
With the help of an ad agency, Cummins continued, a slogan “Get alarmed—smoke detectors save lives,” was selected for the campaign and posters were placed everywhere possible, including donated billboard space and space donated on trucks by a trucking company. When the fatalities rose above the Louisville average of 18 fire deaths annually at the end of the first year of smoke detector campaign, the rise was believed due to unusually cold weather that taxed heating systems, Cummins explained. However, the fatalities dropped to 15 in 1978 and to only 6 in the following year, which was the smallest number on record.
All new residential units in Louisville must now have smoke detectors under a law passed in May 1979. In an evaluation of the program, Cummins said, every child in the school system was asked to take a report card home to determine the use of detectors and it was found that there was at least one smoke detector in 43 percent of the homes.
Addressing the topic of motivations and incentives, Chief Paul Boecker of the Lisle-Woodridge, Ill., Fire District, commented that in the fire service, the “incentives offered are intangible and motivation must come from you.” He cautioned that just because the members of his audience don’t get compliments every day, “don’t think you aren’t doing a good job.”
Boecker explained that the wise fire chief knows what his personnel desires, such as job security, personal loyalty, tactful discipline, etc. Knowing what fire fighters want and work toward, the wise chief works toward those goals.
In a discussion of training evaluation, Hank Howard, training officer of the City of Santa Barbara, Calif., Fire Department, advised that instructors who offer a variety of evaluation methods will do better than those who don’t. He viewed critiques as important in evaluation and said that feedback which helps group members achieve their goals is a skill that can be learned. He said that feedback should be descriptive, nonevaluative, specific and allow freedom of choice.
Howard also pointed out that the instructor’s attitudes have a definite effect on class reaction. He said that a receptive attitude on the part of the instructor makes the learning process move along smoother.
A sewer explosion caused by hazardous materials that left huge holes in Louisville streets over a 2-square-mile area was described by District Chief and Training Officer Larry Atwell of the Louisville Fire Department. The series of explosions left holes up to 40 feet in diameter and one that was 40 feet deep. Atwell said that a flash in the sky was reported 140 miles north of the city.
Only four injuries were reported. The most severe was a fractured leg of an occupant of an auto. There was a loss of communications, as well as water, electrical, gas and sewer services.
Atwell reported that 70 families were evacuated from the blast area. A command post was established at Louisville Fire Headquarters, and top county, city, state and federal officials were informed of the situation.
As a result of the blast, damage suits totaling $90 million were filed, said Kenneth Reising, hazardous materials specialist in the fire prevention bureau of the Louisville Fire Department. Because of the suits, he avoided details of the investigation. However, he pointed out that both the Jefferson County Health Department and the Metropolitan Sewer System have chemical analysis laboratories which have been helpful to the Louisville Fire Department. Reising stressed the importance of all involved agencies working together when hazardous materials spills occur so that the source of the spill and the product can be identified. Only in this way can the problem be effectively resolved.
The fall conference was co-sponsored by the Kentucky Chapter of the ISFSI, Kentucky Fire Service Training and the Louisville Fire Department.