Staff and Command Course Explores Extensive Responsibilities of Chiefs
From budget preparation to fireground command, those who attended the National Fire Service Staff and Command Course at the University of Maryland in College Park January 27 to February 4 received a penetrating view of the many responsibilities of a fire chief. The course was presented by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute in cooperation with the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Budget games and how they are played were described by Dr. William A. Ward of Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University, who warned that when management is weak, the municipal budget officer moves right into that vacuum and seizes power.
The “just for now” game that budget officers play has a trap in its temporary solution. Ward warned, “When a budget officer says, ‘just for now,’ he means forever.”
“They made me do it,” the finance officer explains, but he made the decisions and is now avoiding criticism.
Shift the blame—one way the finance officer cuts the budget and shifts blame upstairs by saying, “What we’re going to have to do is get someone else to look at it.”
Avoiding the blame
“We love them all,” finance officer says of budget items, so he asks the chief to make the cuts—and also shoulder the blame.
“You choose,” played by either the finance officer or the fire chief, puts the decision in the hands of the city council and also shows lack of management ability.
“Aw, it’s so small,” says the finance officer, that you don’t really want it, and it’s out of the budget. However, Ward observed, small cost items may have high performance or service value.
Sequence game is played by the chief, who now has to have funds for this because he got funds for that. Budget officers see this all the time and are wise to his ploy.
The old camel’s nose is a way for a chief to sneak a new program into the budget at low cost and then expect continued funding as the program grows.
All or nothing game is played by the chief who does not wish to deal realistically with a suggested cut. The finance officer then may say, “OK, out it goes.’
Pitfall in game
“Look ma, no hands” is the game played by the chief who needs a larger budget to handle an increased work load. Ward warned that talking in terms of work load data is dealing in the expertise area of the finance officer, who knows all the answers.
Ward advised his audience to get used to describing budget items “in performance terms so people don’t hold you accountable for not performing the services they don’t pay for.”
“You have a right to describe what the reduction in your budget will mean so you won’t be held responsible,” Ward stated.
On the other hand, if an increase is granted, the people should know what they will get for it, he added.
In explaining zero-based budgeting, Ward pointed out that describing the quality of service that can be provided at various budget levels “relieves you of being accountable for providing 100 percent of the service with 70 percent of the budget.”
Immersion into an assessment lab experience, the newest darling of the hiring and promotion selection process, was provided for the staff and command course participants by J. David Harris, director of the Center for Supervision and Management Development, Campbell, Calif., and Phillip Quigley, manager of sales promotion and development for the Atari Corporation, San Jose, Calif.
Harris explained that the management-by-objectives concept is a definition of objectives “so you will know what you need to get there.”
Quigley added that MBO “is really nothing more than common sense, making sure people know what their job is.” When they lack defined objectives, he explained, “people can’t be successful because they don’t know what success is.
Harris pointed out that assessment labs measure job content and the selection factors for these labs are obtained through job descriptions and identification of job tasks. The identified selection factors are then given relative weights.
Harris commented that an assessment lab, in which job applicants do tasks pertinent to the job, is only one part of a selection system. He suggested that a one-day lab can have the same validity as a longer lab. Validity is based on measuring the actual job content. For fire department recruits, he explained, it might include stretching and coupling hose while for chiefs, it could involve preparation of a budget. The class was divided into groups that worked on assessment lab problems that measured such qualities as leadership, decision-making and oral communication.
In a talk on fireground command, Chief Alan V. Brunacini of Phoenix declared, “You’ll see the results of a decision on the fireground sooner than almost any other urgent decision you can make.”
Brunacini stated that the fireground commander has a responsibility to create an organizational structure he can handle on the fireground and warned that “if it’s complicated, it won’t work.” In pointing out that the chief officer must provide for the safety and survival of his personnel on the fireground, the Phoenix chief commented, “The safety record of the fire service is absolutely deplorable.”
A command system with written standard fireground procedures can reduce that “initial period of chaos” on the fireground, Brunacini declared. In addition to cutting down on pre-fire planning detail, standard procedures can reduce the number of routine decisions a fireground commander has to make so that he has more time to give to the critical decisions. Brunacini explained that by providing decisionmaking options known to all, standard procedures reduce dependency on the personal capabilities of a fireground commander and allow “complex” fires to become “routine.”
Standard fireground procedures also provide a framework for effective, relevant training and become the criteria for critiques, Brunacini commented. He explained that through standard procedures, fireground commanders know the ground rules for the review of their actions.
Need to develop leaders
The lack of leadership development, said Douglas Harman, Alexandria, Va., city manager, is something that generally upsets city managers. He observed that some fire officers do not wish to move up to chief officer positions that involve going to daytime schedules from shiftwork.
“The biggest challenge you have is to have effective management,” Harman declared.
He also chided the fire service for what he called an “apparatus obsession.” He felt that fire chiefs many times were overly concerned with getting more apparatus when what they needed to do was to make better use of the men’s time and provide more extensive training to improve their service to citizens. He challenged officers to make more constructive use of their time and suggested that a fire department can often win many basic points with master planning and gain recognition from municipal administrators.
He added, “Productivity in the fire service, is I think, one of the most important things that you have to accomplish.” Harman noted that consultants tend to forget t he involvement of politics in making changes to attain greater productivity.
The introduction of women in fire stations, Harman remarked, is “one of the foremost areas requiring management creativity.” He saw the problem that the women entering the fire service are what he called avant-garde, and the fire fighters are conservative, leading to a conflict of basic attitudes.
Declaring that management must support the fire department training division with money, manpower and material, Battalion Captain Robert McLeod of Sarasota, Fla., charged that most training division problems are “problems of people in the wrong place.” He called for the appointment of competent men not the disabled, the banished and the troublemakers—to the training division. He added that the fire instructors must be those who can accept changes—social, technical and political.
McLeod stated that chiefs have the responsibility for motivating and giving support to training officers and he advised, “You must work at motivating people. It just doesn’t happen.”
In a discussion of the physical demands on fire fighters. McLeod urged mandatory physical exams that include an EKG. He contended that the mandatory use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) at all fires can “greatly reduce” the number of fire fighter injuries. When fire departments mandate the use of SCBA, he said, they have a responsibility to teach emergency procedures for those times when breathing apparatus fails.
“As more breathing apparatus is used on the fireground, we’re going to be exposed to more and more failures of breathing apparatus,” McLeod maintained.
Putting the low-pressure hose over the cylinder valve discharge when the regulator assembly fails, directing cylinder air inside your coat and breathing with a cupped hand, sealing a cracked facepiece with your hand, putting the low-pressure hose beneath your coat, in a pocket or under your armpit when you run out of air, and buddy-breathing were among the emergency measures McLeod recommended for fire fighters to escape from a hazardous atmosphere.
Voicing the opinion that the insurance industry should get out of the business of mandating how to run fire protection, Costis Toregas, vice president of Public Technology, Inc., declared, “I don’t feel that the insurance industry has any right to tell a city how to run its business.”
Asserting that the ISO “classification system isn’t worth a darn,” Toregas hailed the end of ISO grading of cities of more than 250,000 population as an opportunity to try innovative fire protection programs without grading schedule penalties. If such programs cause a drop in fire losses, everyone benefits, he declared.
“The alternative is not another grading schedule put out by anyone,” Toregas asserted.
He predicted that improved fire protection will come by developing a better fire service through better management—not through the use of “a little magic book.”
The passage of proposition 13 impelled the California fire service to conduct workshops to formulate action on community relations, functional consolidation, service levels, resource utilization, and funding, according to Chief Richard G. Barrows, a California state fire and rescue coordinator. Committees were formed to develop a “practical, measurable guide for levels of fire protection.”
Barrows saw in proposition 13 the start of a demand that fire officials review their concept of fire service and be ready to adapt to the indicated changes. In line with this thinking, the committees urged each community to develop a fire protection master plan. They also urged strengthening of building codes to require more built-in fire protection and the enactment of legislation for alternative funding methods, such as demand charges and service fees. Other recommendations were the enactment of legislation to encourage consolidation of fire departments and increased state assistance to rural and volunteer fire departments for training and arson investigation.
“Joe Citizen did not know what he was voting for. He was led blindly into voting for proposition 13,” Barrows commented.
He reported that the vote meant a 20 to 28 percent reduction in fire department budgets.
U.S. Fire Administration
In a look at the status of the United States Fire Administration, Donald D. Flinn, general manager of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, commented, “There is a lack of fire service people in the fire administration and there is a danger that it will be taken over by bureaucrats.”
He was of the opinion that fire service people who left the administration were frustrated by the slow results coming from the decisions they made and the lack of budget expansion. He reported that there has been no funding for the USFA after September 30 and he commented, “Frankly, I’m worried.”
He was convinced that “unless the fire service gets identified with the fire administration, it’s not going to succeed.” He declared that the fire service must show the need for a national focus, such as the USFA, hut “I see that unless a couple of things happen, you can lose that federal focus.”
Carol Coy, Flinn’s administrative assistant, spoke about an IAFC survey that disclosed 26 job actions, a third of them described as strikes and others as sick-ins and slowdowns.
“Employees of the public sector are more apt to strike than at any other time in our history,” she commented.
Alternative methods of handling the fire problem—such as codes, ordinances and inspections—should be considered in the development of a fire protection master plan, advised Alan J. Greenwald of the National Fire Academy. Fire protection involves many agencies, not just the fire department, said Greenwald, who is program manager of the academy’s master planning project.
“For too long, the fire department has had the sole burden for protection,” he declared.
Greenwald recommended that the master planning team include representatives of the municipal agencies most involved with the fire problem and predicted, “These other agencies will see that they can benefit (from master planning)…as well as the fire department.” He also advised that master plans be developed slowly, devoting as much as a year to them.
In a discussion of legal pitfalls in arson investigations, Assistant Chief John L. Peterson of the Sugar Grove, Ill., Fire Department, who is a lawyer as well as a volunteer fire fighter, stressed the need to observe the requirements for search warrants. Fire fighters have a legal right to enter a building to extinguish a fire, and after the fire is out, a reasonable opportunity exists to determine the cause and origin of the fire. After a reasonable time has passed, a search warrant must be obtained. The gray area, Peterson stressed, is what a court may rule to be a reasonable amount of time.
“When in doubt, get a search warrant,” Peterson advised, adding that the other legal way to enter a building is with the consent of the person entitled to possession of the premises.
Questioning potential suspects, he warned, “is an area where great caution must be exercised.” Such people must be told of their rights, he declared.
Peterson described these problems as complex “and changing all the time.” He urged fire chiefs to engage in seminars with prosecutors and police officials to establish operating procedures for arson investigations.
In another talk during the staff and command course, Peterson urged caution in imposing a mandatory personal protective equipment standard because he saw progress in equipment development coming faster than codes can be written. He also voiced the opinion that certain products have not been adequately field-tested to show they perform as expected.
“I’m not at all sure our real world needs have been properly defined,” Peterson commented in discussing the development of better protective equipment.
He stated that in many areas, municipalities have legal responsibilities to provide proper personal protection for fire fighters, and he predicted that these legal responsibilities will eventually be imposed everywhere. He noted that some municipalities have lost their liability insurance and have had to become self-insured.
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In another discussion of legal problems, Dr. Vincent M. Brannigan, a member of the fire protection engineering department at the University of Maryland, explained that negligence suits against the fire service are based on an injury to someone to whom the defendant owes a duty when that injury is the result of a violation of a standard of care.
Brannigan pointed out that a duty to act is an important consideration in a negligence suit. However, he said, a duty owed to the public in general creates no specific duty to an individual. In other words, a duty to all is regarded as a duty to none.
An employee who takes action beyond his sphere of duty may be faced with a suit, Brannigan advised. He said that defense may be based on contributory negligence, assumption of risk, or in some states, comparative negligence.
As a result of experiences in the two strikes by Memphis fire fighters last summer, Director of Fire Robert W. Walker of Memphis urged the development of strike contingency plans by chiefs.
“If you don’t have one, I urge you to make one at once,” he advised.
Walker reported that when the first strike started on July 1, apparatus was sabotaged, phone calls were made to the homes of those who continued to work and wives were threatened. Two fire fighters were caught setting fire to a vacant apartment building on the first night of the strike, he said.
There was no violence during the second strike in August when more men remained on the job, Walker stated. The city passed an ordinance stating that if fire fighters strike in the future, they can be rehired only as probationary fire fighters.
During the first strike, 21 engine and five truck companies handled 225 fire calls in one 24-hour period, and at the start, men worked 72 hours without sleep.
Some sobering facts about smoke detectors were presented by Robert J. Madden, executive director of the Fire Equipment Manufacturers Association, who saw better but more expensive devices in the future. He reported a two or three-year life for some detectors as electrical components are subject to temperature escalation and other problems, and he said that batteries, designed for a year of use, don’t last that long in extreme high and low temperatures. After about seven years, he said, the efficiency of detectors drops to about 70 percent.
“There’s only so much you can do for $19.95 over the counter,” Madden commented and predicted, “That’s why we’re going to see a higher quality device that will cost around $100.”
Madden also spoke about hazardous materials in transit and warned, “Sometimes these flammable materials have multiple hazards that you have to be concerned about.” He pointed out that toxic material is less hazardous when it is burning and sometimes there is no choice because it may not be possible to evacuate a large enough area for dissipation of the toxic gas and an excessive amount of water might be needed for controlling the hazard by dilution.
Oxidizers, which will cause other material to burn vigorously—sometimes to deflagration, Madden commented, “have caused more problems to firemen and Fire apparatus than a lot of the other materials around.”
When a fire department operates an emergency medical service, the personnel should be separate from the fire suppression force, advised Dorothy St. John, assistant director for emergency medical services of the Alexandria, Va., Fire Department. She disclosed that in Alexandria, where the EMS is operated as a separate unit by the fire department, experience showed that fire fighters “eventually want to get hack in fire suppression.” She pointed out that a turnover in fire fighters assigned to EMS means a constant training program.
Ms. St. John advised those going into EMS to plan ahead for women employees and added, “Also it’s a good idea to prepare your fire fighters’ wives” for the advent of women in the firehouse. She suggested calling a meeting of wives to answer their quest ions.
Another thing to consider in starting EMS, Ms. St. John cautioned, is that a fire department’s automotive maintenance people “will spend a lot more time” with ambulances than fire apparatus. The possibility of adding maintenance personnel should be considered.
In Alexandria, the EMS entrance exam includes taking a stretcher with a 200-pound weight into and out of an ambulance, a reading comprehension test using selections from training manuals, a 1.25-mile run for men and a 1.15-mile run for women that must be done within 12 minutes, and an oral board interview.
The physical fitness program in the Alexandria Fire Department, said Chief Charles H. Rule, is developed specifically for each man after he has been examined. The individualized program was instituted after 14 men had retired for heart and lung reasons at an estimated eventual $3 million cost.
Since the program has been in operation, sick leave has decreased, Rule reported, but he warned, “You will have more injuries when you start a physical fitness program than you had before.” The slight injuries will be associated with jogging and weight lifting, he explained.
Rule stated that motivation rather than compulsion should be stressed in starting a fitness program and that the program should have the full support of the city administration, including a policy that any injuries during fitness activities are job-related.
The man who helped with the Alexandria program, Dr. Paul Davis, president of the Institute of Human Performance in Washington, D.C., commented, “Forty percent of the people we test in fire and police work we would say are in acceptable shape.”
He stated that the percentage of lean body fat is the best indicator of fitness and that grip strength is a good indicator of body strength.
Handling human stress and adjusting to the attitudes of the younger generation are two problems that face the fire service, said Dr. Stephen A. Martin, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va.
When we handle our stress poorly, he explained, our bodies suffer and we may become hypochondriacs. He said that when people undergo drastic changes, they will have highs and lows, but if they hang on long enough, they can adjust to all kinds of changes in their lives.
Workaholism is an addition of the fire service, Martin declared and explained that paid fire fighters continue to expand their work with a second job, while volunteers have the fire service as a second job.
Martin observed that the difference in the attitudes of those born before 1945 and those born afterward arises from the change from a society of abundancy to one of scarcity and a difference in mental attitudes of thinking vs. feeling. The older people, he explained, think in terms of what society has long regarded as right or wrong while the younger people regard their feelings as the criteria for what is good or bad in their personal lives.
In discussing public fire safety education, both Diane C. Roche and Edward H. McCormack saw people as the principal problem. Ms. Roche, who is a fire education specialist in the Virginia Beach, Va., Fire Department, urged her listeners to avoid the error of neglecting any group because of the belief that the group can’t be taught. Both children and the elderly can be taught, she declared.
“The problem with the fire service in the past is that they used a lot of scare tactics” and left people with anxieties, Ms. Roche commented.
McCormack, who is executive secretary of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, asserted, “We’ve got to get people to get at the fire problem. That’s one thing the fire service has lacked for years—how to get to people.”
Disaster information kit
When a disaster occurs, “local government has the responsibility and the question is whether you are going to accept it,” Chief Paul H. Boecker of the Lisle-Woodridge, Ill., Fire District, told the staff and command course members. Boecker, who is chairman of the IAFC emergency preparedness committee, urged the development of a “disaster briefcase” containing materials and information that would be needed at a major incident, such as bodily injury tags, phone number of state and federal agenfies that can assist, where to get heavy equipment, freezer bags for personal belongings, phone numbers of corporation offices, a local phone directory, clipboards, pencils, manila envelopes and other items and information.
Boecker remarked that all this can be contained in a single briefcase carried in the responding chief’s car. The items and information, he pointed out, are frequently needed at a time of day when it is no longer easy to obtain them.
In discussing the importance of arson detection by the first-arriving fire fighters, Ray Simpson, a senior instructor of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, asked, “Do you train your officers in fire scene observation? If you do, what do you teach them?”
Simpson declared that the first-due fire fighter or officer can make or break an arson case.
“We get a fictitious cause,” he added, when an investigator avoids admitting that the cause of a fire is unknown. Instead of making company officers investigators, we should train them to observe and remember things an investigator wants to know, Simpson advised.
He offered 10 steps to follow in training men in fire observation:
- Realize one of the prime responsibilities of fire fighters is to determine the cause and origin of fire.
- Realize that you and your officers are the first eyes and ears on a fire scene.
- Train men to observe the unusual—what is or is not happening that should be happening.
- Be quick to observe vehicles or persons leaving the scene at greater than normal speed.
- The first impression of what you see on arrival is critical, such as smoke, flame, etc.
- Is the building secure? How is entry obtained by fire fighters? Is there indication of forcible entry prior to the arrival of the fire department?
- Where is the main body of fire? Does there appear to be more than one fire burning initially?
- Is the fire harder than normal to extinguish? Does it keep reigniting?
- What can you smell that seems odd to you?
- What did people say to you and can you positively assure that you or an investigator can locate these people later if necessary?
Can you tell if a person is the type to become a public education specialist other than by asking him if he would like to do that work? James C. Smalley, acting director of the Arkansas Fire School, who is on loan to the United States Fire Administration Public Education Office, reported on the development of a testing system that purports to do this.
Through the sorting of cards with statements into appropriate piles by people being tested, personality profiles are developed. Smalley reported that apparatus, inspector and public education-oriented personalities can be identified through this system. He said that 7 out of 10 times, the public education specialist prospects can be spotted.
However, he remarked, all this indicates is an interest in public fire safety education work and the possibility of being able to do it.
“You can’t tell what the fire fighter is going to do—you can’t tell what anybody is going to do,” he added.