By Jerry Knapp
FDIC International just keeps getting better each year. After 40 years in the fire service it continues to amaze me how much I learn, how many skills I take home that I can share with my department, how many valuable contacts I make, and how outstanding it is to just be around the best trainers, officers and firefighters in the world. Plan now to attend next year.
All attendees at FDIC have one thing in common: the desire to be the best firefighters we can be. What you learn here could save your life. The FDIC experience will definitely make you more effective on the scene.
At FDIC, you share experiences and firefighting at breakfast, in hands-on training, in workshops, at lunch, at classroom sessions, at breaks, at dinner, maybe over a few beers and with your roommates after lights out. Then the cycle of professionalism starts over probably before you have showered and are ready to face the world. Three words describe it: intense, invaluable, and unique to students of our game.
So here are some of the highlights for me from this year’s FDIC.
Bobby Halton’s inspiring talks at the opening ceremonies keep you motivated for the entire year. He brings a perspective to our job like no other because he has “been there and done that.” More importantly, he can convey to us, probably better than we understand ourselves, how critical what we do every day really is. We can’t see the forest for the trees, but Chief Halton sees it clearly and is there to remind us.
Bill Gustin, Lifetime Achievement Award: To know Bill is to love him. But why? Outside of his warm (well, maybe “engaging” is more appropriate) personality, he is always looking for that little skill, trick, tip or big concept that makes us better on the fireground. “Us” is the word I think of about Bill–himself as well as whomever he is talking to, be it 300 firefighters in a seminar or one on one over a beer. “A” lifetime achievement? Hell no, Bill has helped shape thousands of lifetime achievements through his teaching. Who knows how many civilian and firefighters have been saved because of Bill just being Bill? One lifetime achievement award is an understatement.
(1) Left to right: Dave Walsh, Jerry Knapp, Bill Gustin, and Renee Gustin
Pete Van Dorpe presents a mix of fireground experience and the most modern research, brought together for you and presented in a useful way to take home and use. Pete makes it real and four hours with him during a workshop makes you wish for four days just receiving everything he is transmitting. Pete is creating the future for the American fire service. That comes from his experience combined with helping lead the most recent research and his ability to mold it together and make it understandable and practical. It’s a firefighter Christmas learning from Pete.
I can listen Dan Madrzykowski all day! Dan presents the latest and greatest findings from the instrumented live burns that Underwriters Labs has been doing. More importantly, Dan has studied, modeled, and recreated—FOR US— many line-of-duty death (LODD) fires. These include the types of fires that you and I are going to every day, whether it be a house, a row house or wind-driven fire. Dan explains the fire created the conditions that lead to the fire dynamics and how it killed brother and sister firefighters. The value of Dan’s work and its delivery of how and why our fellow firefighters were killed will save your life, but you must listen, understand, and learn from their experiences. That means paying attention to Dan’s marvelous, lifesaving (your life!) work.
There were many other great programs at FDIC International 2019. Sadly, I could not go to all of them, so here are a few that were important to me in my department.
Tony Carroll, Mayday Mondays: Tony links LODDs to specific skills and drills on the first Monday of each month that you can use to increase firefighter survival. Mayday Monday includes a report or story about the highlight LODD and the drill/skill that ties into the cause of death cited in the report. An ounce of prevention is worth an entire rapid intervention team if you can prevent yourself from getting in a bad spot or save yourself from it!
Active shooter. A cadre of world-class instructors presented on this critical topic. This was a four-hour program based on a two-day training session. How they packed two days into those four hours I don’t know but it was great. We practiced the rescue task force concept, use of tactical emergency casualty care (TECC), victim stabilization, wound packing tourniquets, and more.
(2) Realistic tourniquet practice…his pupils were uneven, he bled, and breathes.
It’s All About the Saws. Like you I have cut my share of roofs, doors, and so forth, but this hands-on training was truly hands on. Lots of cutting, including metal, logs, roofs, high-security doors, window bars, and even polycarbonate panels windows. The latter is a material I had yet to cut until FDIC gave me the chance. Next time my hook bounces off a polycarbonate panel window, I will know how to cut it, because I learned it and did it at FDIC International. It was really valuable to learn from West Coast truck guys. They have some really cool techniques with the saws that were new to me.
(3) Cutting a high-security door on the back of a strip mall. It’s easy, just cut the bottom off and crawl in and unlock it.
Lithium ion batteries: Holy cow, I had no idea how dangerous they are in cars and buildings. Routine car fine…not anymore! This was a topic I had no concept of until FDIC International 2019. The electric car fire class showed a video of batteries in a typical lithium ion battery burning and the jet engine-like blast that comes blasting out. Not your father’s car fire for sure. There was lots of discussion about how toxic the smoke is. There are some new real nasties being formed by the chemicals in the battery and now blasted out for us to breath if we don’t have our face piece on. In discussion with Jack Murphy, I learned that these batteries are now being placed in high-rise buildings and as UPS units. As Jack explained, a new deadly hazard for us that we as firefighters will have to deal with but currently have little training and experience with.
Aaron Fields, The Rule of 3’s: All Things Engine through Algorithms. Aaron has a system for his engine company that all engine companies across America, maybe the world, should use. Yup, it is as simple and definite as that. The premise is that humans can generally remember and execute three things under pressure, for instance, during a good working fire. He has broken down and built up the understanding of executing the engine company’s mission, getting water on the fire quickly, utilizing a system of threes. There’s far too much to try to explain in a few sentences here, but it is a system based on science and professionalism and is used by other professions that would do a world of good for your engine company, big or small. It is unique application in the fire service that you have not seen unless you have taken his training.
On the Floor
There are always lots of tires to kick and innovations to see. One of the best innovative products I saw was a natural gas detector that is laser-based that can detect natural gas up to 100 feet away (keeping you out of the kill box). It works through glass so you can tell if there is gas inside a building or apartments before you force the door. Its use is during size-up of gas emergencies. For an effective and fast size-up, firefighters need to know where the gas is leaking, where it is going, and where it is not. A fast size-up helps us carry out or mission of life safety during natural gas emergencies. This technology is a leap ahead of traditional meters, which take 30 seconds to take in and process a sample while you are standing in the kill box. An instant reading from 100 feet away represents a pretty important safety improvement for us.
These are just very few highlights from my week at FDIC. The best way to describe FDIC is as concentrated juice for your career. You must dilute it before you drink it. FDIC is concentrated training that will take you time to dilute and digest, but when you do, your knowledge, skills, and abilities just jumped a couple of light years. Then, it is almost time for next year’s FDIC.
Guys sometimes tell me they can’t afford the time and money to go. I tell them that if they are really a firefighter, medic, rescue, or hazmat dude, they can’t afford not to go. Plan now. You will get back 100 times what you spend.
JERRY KNAPP is a 42-year firefighter/EMT with the West Haverstraw (NY) Fire Department and a training officer with the Rockland County Fire Training Center. He is chief of the hazmat team and a technical panel member for the Underwriters Laboratories research on fire attack at residential fires. He authored the Fire Attack chapter in Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II and has written numerous articles for Fire Engineering.