Why I Teach: Joe Knitter

In this series, Fire Engineering Senior Editor Mary Jane Dittmar looks at the things that motivated and inspired instructors to present on their topics at FDIC International 2016. Segments will be posted on a regular basis up to and through the conference, April 18-23.

Joe Knitter

Joe Knitter


South Milwaukee (WI) Fire Department

Fighting Fires in Fast-Food Restaurants                  

Thursday, April 21, 3:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m.

The impetus for this class was the line-of-duty deaths of Houston Firefighters Lewis Mayo III and Kimberly Smith in the McDonald’s Restaurant arson fire on Valentine’s Day of 2000. After reading incident reports and watching the American Heat video produced about this fire, I was left with far too many questions about the “why” behind their deaths.  

Those questions led to my researching areas such as the causes of fast-food restaurant fires; the techniques and products used in the construction of these free-standing, lightweight buildings; and the operational considerations necessary when responding to fires in these structures. My research led me to develop this program that provides “cues and clues” for every rank of line personnel and raises their awareness about these occupancies.                                                          

A fire chief who had attended this program a year ago stated that as soon as he heard a dispatch alert to a fire in a fast-food restaurant, this program “popped into his head” and everything discussed in class came back to him as he responded to the scene. He read the building, predicted the location of the fire and its travel, and ensured that his personnel survived the fire.

Other attendees reported, “We never look at one of those occupancies in the same way after attending your program. My response:  “Mission accomplished.”

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