Validation of Recruit Exam Explained at NFPA Session
Famous Fires and the Lessons Learned
The development of a validated entrance examination for the District of Columbia Fire Department and the options involved in selecting a level of fire service in a municipality were among the topics discussed at sessions of the Fire Service Section on May 17 during the annual meeting of the National Fire Protection Association at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D. C.
The work of developing the entrance examination for the District of Columbia Fire Department was described by three persons who participated in the project, Battalion Chief Joseph R. Granados and two personnel research psychologists for the United States Civil Service Commission, Dr. Paul van Rijn and Mrs. Sandra S. Payne.
Job knowledges listed
Granados explained that a list of job knowledges for each rank was developed by a board of six fire department members under the guidance of U. S. Civil Service Commission test specialists. The specific knowledges developed were rated both for importance and ability to differentiate among candidates. The chief pointed out that job analysis helps provide the basis for the job-relatedness of exams.
“Now just because some municipalities say that they are operating on a merit system doesn’t necessarily mean that they are,” Granados declared. “The mechanisms that they use to evaluate merit, even though in good faith, may in fact not be job-related. And even though they may be job-related, they may not be valid predicators of job performance.”
The chief explained, “Courts are not rejecting the concept of examination, they are rejecting the concept of nonjob-related and non-validated examinations. But they are saying even more. They are saying that where evidence of adverse impact exists, the employer must prove that the test is job-related and valid.”
Van Rijn conceded that analyzing jobs takes a great deal of time, but “there is general agreement that you need some form of job analysis.” However, numerous task inventories have already been generated and you can borrow from them in developing an examination, van Rijn advised. The key, he pointed out, is the participation of fire department members who really know the job. He also said that job analysis advisers must be representative of both the work being considered and minorities in the fire department. In determining the relative importance of each task, three scales were used—criticality (emergency work), time spent and difficulty.
By taking the top 25 percent of the three scales and combining them with the officers’ opinions, eventually a list of 159 tasks was developed. Since these fire department tasks had to be learned through training, they could not be used in a recruit examination, and van Rijn explained that it was necessary to determine the abilities necessary to learning to perform these tasks.
Six measurable mental abilities were selected on the basis of their job-relatedness as established by the ratings of job experts and the reflection of the content of the fire fighter’s work. The abilities selected were the ability to read and understand written material, ability to use simple mathematical formulas, ability to discover general rules or principles from specific situations or events (learning by experience), ability to understand and follow spoken instructions, ability to recognize or identify problems or potential problems, and ability to make judgments and decisions when information is incomplete or conflicting.
Van Rijn pointed out that an entrance examination can be developed only for the job at hand the entry level—and not to recruit those who have the potential to become chiefs.
He stressed that you should empirically verify that the test developed selects the best people for the job and he warned that “it is essential that all your decisions are documented.” Van Rijn also pointed out that the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Federal Executive Agency do not always agree and because they don’t agree, “it doesn’t relieve you of the burden to justify that your procedures are job-related and valid.
Mrs. Payne explained that reading passages from fire service literature and answering questions based on an understanding of the passages become part of the test. This does not require fire fighting knowledge, but the answers require the same reading ability that a job as a fire fighter requires, which she said is the junior college reading level.
As for the mathematics testing, she explained that formulas that replicate fire service formulas were used to determine whether persons taking the exam could substitute numbers just as numbers are substituted in fire service hydraulics formulas, thereby replicating the job situation.
“The content validity of the test can then be clearly established,” Mrs. Payne remarked.
Service levels compared
How a municipality can best provide fire service at an economical and efficient level was discussed by Dr. Harold Hickey of the University of Maryland fire protection curriculum. Hickey said he studied Alexandria, Va., to see if the ISO Grading Schedule criteria provided the most effective allocation of fire suppression forces and found that it did not. However, he referred to the Grading Schedule as “a very important tool” for comparing or evaluating alternatives.
In comparing alternative systems, Hickey considered changes in manning from five to three-man companies and weighed response times in relation to various types of properties.
His study showed that there was a $5.4 million price tag attached to Alexandria meeting ISO requirements for a class 3 grading. If the Grading Schedule’s six-man manning requirement were met, it would cost Alexandria $1 million more and save only eight deficiency points, Hickey commented. He added that he found no statistical difference in the effect on fire protection among the various plans he evaluated. However, there was a difference of five to nine stations among the alternatives.
An innovative plan Hickey considered would assign eight men on squads, three on ladder trucks and two on elevating platforms.
Response time considered
A master plan would have a fourminute response time and require five stations. If a 3 1/2-minute response time was used, then eight stations would be required in Alexandria, and Hickey questioned what the half minute difference actually meant in fire protection. Based on sprinklered property, the master plan with four-minute response time would add only six deficiency points. The reason, Hickey explained, was that the alternative of sprinklering property would cut the required fire flow from 6500 to 3500 gpm.
If a five-minute response was established, Hickey continued, then only three stations would be needed to cover the city and 11 deficiency points would be assigned for lack of equipment.
Using a single central station concept, Hickey explained, there would be a five-minute response to industrial areas and an eight-minute response to residential areas, but if the same equipment were placed in two houses, there would be a maximum response time of six minutes to any area and 12 deficiency points for equipment.
When the Occidental Insurance Building was constructed, the owners decided to install a smoke detector system instead of a sprinkler system, and after the fire that seriously damaged the 20th floor, “it was their opinion they made a correct management decision,” said Deputy Chief John Gerard, Los Angeles City fire marshal (now fire chief). Gerard added that since 1974, Los Angeles has required all high-rise buildings to be sprinklered.
He reported that at the Occidental fire, management personnel went to the fire floor to find out the cause of the detector alarm before calling the fire department.
In discussing the progress of the fire, Gerard pointed out that fire partitions on the 20th floor confined the fire successfully and gave fire fighters an area in which they could mount their attack on the blaze.
“Fire zones really are effective,” Gerard declared, and he pointed out that to make full use of fire partitions and fire walls, “you’ve got to do pre-fire planning” to know where they are. He commented that “one of the things that is really well received in the station is that fire prevention can be combined with pre-fire planning.”
Gerard stated that glass from windows landed on the ground as much as 75 feet from the building and a pumper engineer was cut on the thigh by Hying glass. As a result, the Los Angeles City Fire Department now has a rule that pumpers at high-rise fires must be spotted no less than 200 feet from the fire building.
The stairways had a problem of their own in this building, Gerard explained, because one stairwell served only the even-numbered floors and the other stairwell served only the odd-numbered floors. This, Gerard commented, caused “some little bit of confusion, needless to say.”
An SOP in the LA City Fire Department is that fire fighters cannot use any elevator that serves the fire floor. Therefore in high-rises, fire fighters must use an elevator that either stops its full run below the fire floor or else passes the fire floor in a blind shaft and serves floors above. This, of course, means that in some cases fire fighters must walk several floors either up or down to reach the fire floor.
Fire fighting clothing
Another effort to develop improved fire fighting clothing was described by Fred J. Abeles and Robert Del Vecchio of the Grumman Corporation of Bethpage, N. Y. As a preliminary to getting into the clothing design stage, Abeles related, physical tests were made of fire fighters, both on and off the fireground. In metabolism testing, it was found that fire fighters doing a step test had a metabolic increase of 30 to 80 percent when wearing turnout gear instead of street clothing.
Del Vecchio explained that in the first phase of Project FIRES (fire fighter integrated response equipment system) performance standards for protective gear are based on present-day equipment. He said that he feels that the clothing could be put together in a “much better system.”
Del Vecchio stated that phase two of Project FIRES will develop turnout clothing and field-test the prototype systems. Work in this phase also will seek what can be supplied by new technology on the basis that cost is not a problem. Eventually, this phase will develop what Del Vecchio referred to as a fire fighter’s “ensemble.” He disclosed that at this time they are thinking of a bag suit as one way to go.
In describing the District of Columbia Fire Department efforts to induce residents to install smoke detectors in their homes, Burton Clark, a fire fighter in that department, declared, “Public education is the only way we can eliminate the fire problem, which is caused by ignorance and indifference.”
Clark stated that the Washington, D. C., program is based on training fire fighters to have sufficient information about smoke detectors to convince visitors to fire stations of the need to install detectors in their homes. Clark said the training program instituted by Chief Burton Johnson consists of two parts— information and motivation. The motivation consists of convincing fire fighters of the need for smoke detectors and the information part provides them with the material needed to explain the function and value of smoke detectors to the public.
Clark said that as a result of the detector training program, more than 100 District of Columbia fire fighters have volunteered to take further training to enable them to go into the community with the fire-safety message.
Brush fire project
FIRESCOPE, the Southern California brush fire area coordination effort, could have national application of its work in developing uniform terminology, fire management modeling and improved communications, said Richard Chase of the United States Forest Service. The FIRESCOPE research program was launched in 1972 with federal funding and it is a multiagency effort to manage wild land fires and other major incidents.
Chase explained that FIRESCOPE has two major interests, a multiagency coordination system on a daily basis and an incident command system with standard organization and procedures for fire line communications and better planning of attack.
Chase said that it will take about four more years to implement FIRESCOPE fully. An operating coordinations center has been constructed which ties in all the agencies involved. FIRESCOPE assists the agencies and the individual agencies are responsible for their own command operations. It is the job of FIRESCOPE, Chase explained, to keep track of available resources, and it is involved in communications, training, an infrared imagery system and computerized data. The data system includes a prediction capability for Santa Ana winds that evaluates the size of the fire, the fuel, the wind and the terrain.
Chase said there will be more than 2300 persons trained among all the agencies participating in wild land fire fighting in southern California and that the FIRESCOPE project is considering a satellite communications system to overcome the difficulties in radio communication caused by the mountainous terrain in southern California.
Captain James Turner of the Los Angeles County Fire Department described operations in brush fire fighting and told of the ability to make an infrared scan of a fire from an aircraft and to radio the results to a truck with equipment to produce hard copy of the scan.