Letters to the Editor: August 2019

Thank You, Chief Havel

At face value, firefighting is a profession that seems relatively straightforward when expressed out loud. Our mission is to “fight fires,” “put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” and “go home with the same number of firefighters we started our tour with.” Although we attempt to streamline our duties to make our jobs more self-evident, firefighting is far from clean and uncomplicated. It’s a trade that requires extreme expertise to keep our members safe and to fulfill our mission “so others may live.” With this said, nuance presents itself every step of the way. How much nozzle reaction is produced by each handline/tip? What’s the correct angle of insertion when constructing raker shores? How much of a safety factor is built into life safety rope? Firefighting may appear rather simple at face value, but we all know this is a far cry from the truth once we join the brotherhood.

To keep our firefighters safe from peril, there is one area that requires extensive focus, time, and study. That area is building construction. I remember being a new firefighter and one of my lieutenants at the time telling me, “In this job, everything matters; but out of everything you need to know, building construction is one of the most important. It could be the one thing that saves your life one day.” Those words made an extraordinary impression at the time, and I hold them remarkably close to this day. Building construction isn’t just something we must learn to pass a test; it is an art that requires years of dedication to master.

Chief Greg Havel was a man who gave an incredible amount of his life to this cause. He was a subject matter expert in everything building construction. The overall topic can at times be deliberate and detailed; nonetheless, Chief Havel forged through and made it his lifework. He truly understood just how paramount building construction was to the safety of the fire service. He gave everything he had to ensure firefighters were as protected as much as humanly possible. His FireEngineering.com series “Construction Concerns” took us on a journey each month deep into the subject most wouldn’t have the knowledge or patience to compose. He wrote and educated us about things that were within plain sight that few would even recognize.

A while back, a couple of my fellow firefighters and I took our families to the Great Wolf Lodge in Massachusetts. A few weeks before, I had watched Chief Havel’s FDIC International presentation on cross-laminated timber construction. Prior to this in-depth and strikingly informative class, I honestly didn’t know much about cross-laminated timbers, let alone attempt to identify them out in the field. While walking up and down the stairs of this massive indoor water park, I happened to notice gigantic exposed timbers that were part of the roofing assembly. These timbers appeared to have many individual pieces of solid lumber that had been glued together. Without Chief Havel’s mission of promoting building construction, I would never have known what I was looking at or the positives/dangers associated with it. I would have proceeded aimlessly with my boys up and down the water slides without ever bettering myself.

After getting home, I felt compelled to contact Chief Havel and let him know how important and far reaching his work was. I know this is just one small example of the countless experiences that impacted firefighters across the country throughout his years of service. He wrote and taught about it all: gypsum roofs, reinforced concrete, steel rebar, and even galvanized corrosion. Basically, if it was part of a structure, Chief Havel was all in.

It’s nothing new that in today’s fire service, we are presented with an ever-growing number of members who are not acutely proficient in identifying building construction. They may bring other things to the table, such as a keener ability with technology, but as far as building construction goes, it’s something that needs a little more attention.

Chief Havel leaves behind a cache of valuables when it comes to the art of building construction. We as officers and senior firefighters should tap into what he spent his life’s work on. We should use his work to help foster a better understanding of building construction for the next generation of firefighters. Everyone always says, “As long as you leave the fire service better than you found it, you know you did your job.” Chief, we are a better and safer service because of your calling in cultivating a sharp awareness of building construction. There’s no question you left the fire service better than you found it. For that, we say, “Thank you, Chief Havel, thank you!”

Adam J. Hansen
Milford (CT) Fire Department

It Is the “Best Damn Job”

Thanks to Chief Bobby Halton for “The Best Damn Job We’ve Ever Had” (Editor’s Opinion, Fire Engineering, May 2019). My department suffered a firefighter suicide a few weeks ago, and we are still in the healing process. A couple of nights ago, I spoke to our members about our fire service family and the support we must provide to each other. I am going to be forwarding this article to each of our members. I know that it will provide some comfort. Thanks for being part of our recovery.

Phil Stittleburg
Wisconsin State Firefighters Association

I just read Chief Bobby Halton’s “The Best Damn Job We’ve Ever Had.” It seems to me that he “gets it.” For decades, I would head to the operational articles because I am an operational guy. As I aged, I started reading Chief Halton’s and other editors’ opinions and have found them great reading. Chief Halton seems to be dead on when it comes to the history, tradition, and honor of the fire service that some of us eventually grew into admiring and found solace in doing the right thing.

Scott D. Whalen
Captain (Ret.)
Atlanta, GA

Thanks to Chief Halton for “The Best Damn Job We’ve Ever Had.” In my humble opinion, it is right up there with Paul Harvey’s “Fire and Ice” in helping to articulate what we all feel but find difficult to put into words.

As a volunteer firefighter, it is hard for me to explain to others (and sometimes even to myself) why the job means so much, especially since there isn’t even a paycheck attached to it. But, when the editorial talks about that “certain character who lives on the edge solely to keep others from passing over it,” that line hit home. Those words said in one simple sentence are what make it hard for so many of us to reconcile in our hearts and heads why we do what we do and if it is worth it.

The editorial reminded me that the hours spent training, the calls in the middle of the night, and the personal sacrifices made all helped keep other people’s loved ones from passing over that edge. That fact makes it all worth it. Thanks for reminding me that I do have “the best damn job anyone has ever had.”

Chad Fairbrother
Coastside Volunteer Fire
Half Moon Bay, CA

Paul Combs Drawn By Fire

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