Larry Davis Jr., a noted fire service leader, author, instructor and good friend, passed away at his home on Aug. 3 in Corpus Christi, Texas, at age 63 after a seven-month battle with lung cancer.
Anyone who ever had the chance to be a student in one of Larry’s classes knows about his passion for bringing change and improving the rural fire service. Larry’s straight-to-the-point approach to upgrading rural water supply movement and advancing firefighter safety was second to none. There is an indelible mark that has been left on thousands of firefighters across the nation who are much better prepared today to fight fire because of the procedures, techniques and equipment that Larry either developed or promoted as best-practice in his classes.
I first met and had the chance to work with Larry in 1991 during an International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) sponsored live-fire training session in Montville, Conn. Larry was the chairman of the society at that time and he and the late “Big Ed” McCormack, the CEO of ISFSI, were conducting training focusing on NFPA 1403, the Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions. Larry was truly a fire service pioneer and ahead of his time.
As I look back today, the quality of this training program conducted some 17 years ago focusing on acquired structure preparation and Incident Command was outstanding. It has only been institutionalized by a few other agencies, and within just the past five years.
Since we first met in Montville, I was fortunate enough to develop a friendship with Larry and had the opportunity to work together in conducting hands-on training classes from Rhode Island to Alaska and co-authoring several fire service textbooks. With his wealth of knowledge, Larry truly understood the issues facing the fire service. He knew how to make improvements in operations and safety. And as an instructor, he knew how to train and motivate firefighters to affect change at their local level.
Fire Service Roots
Larry started his firefighting career with the Canonsburg (Pa.) Volunteer Fire Department in the mid-1960s. He spent four years in the United States Air Force, where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant in its fire service. After leaving the Air Force, he spent almost 30 years working in industrial fire and loss prevention with Industrial Risk Insurers (IRI) while at the same time gaining national recognition for his work with the rural firefighting community.
Larry’s work as a fire service instructor was exceptional and he rose to chairman of ISFSI in the early-1990s. After his retirement from IRI, he and his wife moved to Texas, where he became a staff division chief with the Refinery Terminal Fire Company and then with Industrial Emergency Services.
He was a full member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and was a certified fire protection engineer. Much of his life-long commitment to improving fire protection can be found in the textbooks that he authored. He was also one of the founders of the Rural Firefighting Institute and was vice president of GBW Associates, LLC, a fire protection training and consulting firm.
He also worked with his brother Mark Davis, who is a battalion chief with the Montgomery County (Md.) Department of Fire and Rescue, on several projects.
Larry was not one to be politically correct and had no problem ruffling feathers when it came to making points about increasing safety and implementing new technology.
One story Larry liked to tell was when he and Lee Hustead, a Tennessee-based fire instructor who co-authored a book with Larry years ago, were teaching a class on water movement and large diameter hose, at a time when LDH was just coming into its own.
During the morning break of this daylong class, Larry and Lee were having a private discussion that was abruptly interrupted by a student. The student, angry about the operational changes that Larry and Lee were endorsing in the class, approached them and blurted, “I think that you guys are [expletive deleted].”
After five seconds of silence, Lee calmly turned to Larry and said, “I see that we have accomplished our first objective.”
Larry replied, “Yes, we did. We got him to think.”
Larry had views on how we operate that made us think about changing the status quo. And he provided clarity on important fire service issues. For example, one Larry truism was that the leading cause of firefighter fatality is “firefighters trying to do the impossible.”
Larry did so much for the betterment of so many rural firefighters across our country. The best tribute we can pay to Larry is to focus on his passion for doing what is right when it comes to advancing firefighter safety and providing the best fire protection possible for those we serve in our local communities. He will be greatly missed.
Rest in Peace Larry.
Editor’s Note: Dominic Colletti is the global foam systems product manager for Hale Products and the author of two books – “The Compressed Air Foam Systems Handbook” and “Class A Foam – Best Practice For Structure Firefighters.” Colletti is a former assistant fire chief in Royersford, Pa. and serves on the technical committee of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Fire Department Occupation Safety and Health Program. He is an instructor specializing in CAFS implementation.