Why I Teach: Thomas Dunne

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.

Thomas Dunne

Thomas Dunne

Deputy Chief

Fire Department of New York


We’re Only Human: Understanding Fireground Behavior


Monday, April 18, 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

My primary goal is to provide information about a vital, seldom-discussed aspect of firefighting—how people typically act at a fire or other disaster. In my 33 years with the Fire Department of New York, I received a great education on strategy and tactics, but little about human behavior in a crisis.

Preservation of life is the number one goal in the fire service. A basic knowledge of human behavior in a crisis can assist us in managing searches, evacuating buildings, and effectively communicating with people in distress. Understanding how they think and the ability to predict how they will  react (or not react) at a fire, how they function in groups, their choice of exits, their reactions to alarms, their stairway movement patterns, and the other topics covered can be incorporated into the overall size-up process we perform at every response.

Optimally, my class will enable the students to take home the concepts discussed and make practical, hands-on use of them in firefighting. It is far better to manage fire operations based on knowing how people will likely behave vs. how we think they will act. Similarly, we should base our risk evaluations, building prefire plans, and fire prevention activities with this in mind.

I recently presented this class to a large group of volunteer firefighters. They found the class entertaining–more importantly, they said they found the information useful and complemented their firefighting education. I look forward to sharing the same experience and the same results with our FDIC attendees.

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