The Industry of Fire Protection

By Sam Goldwater


Samuel Goldwater and Associates


In the July issue of Fire Apparatus & Equipment, we began to explore the breadth and scope of the fire industry. The premise was that the fire industry probably has a larger footprint than you thought. It ranges from combat firefighters (which is also broader than you thought) to fire protection engineers, sprinkler contractors, equipment distributors, and manufacturers. Your view really depends on where you stand. Even within the fire department, it depends on where you stand. If you are standing on the apparatus floor, you are looking at fire engines, aerials, rescues, and ambulances. If you are in the bureau of fire prevention, you are looking at cubicles, blueprints, and burn permits. If you are in fire training, you are looking at rookie students, test scores, and textbooks. If you are on the fire boat, you are looking at fire pumps, diving gear, foam systems, and depth gauges. You get the idea. Each and every component has an operational case (the folks who do the work), a management case (the folks who manage the work), a business case (the folks who sell and make the products that support the work), a training case (the folks who teach us how to do the work), and a public case (the folks who receive the benefit of and pay for the work). This massive spider web is the Industry of Fire Protection.


It is not unlike any other industry. So, whether you are doing it, teaching it, or selling it, you need to understand what the “it” is and where “it” fits into our industry. Why should you care? For one, no matter where you started in the industry, that’s probably not where you’ll end up—so it might be a good idea to understand the industry so you can figure out where you’re going. “I just want to be a firefighter.” Until the day you want to become an engineer/driver/operator. Until the day you want to become a company officer. Until the day you get assigned to the bureau of equipment/logistics. Until the day you take the chief’s exam. Then one day you figure out that to get that boat you want, you are going to have to do something with those days off. “Maybe I could sell fire equipment; teach fire science at the community college; install sprinkler systems and restaurant hoods; fix SCBAs or fire trucks; or, the biggie, sell and install fire extinguishers.” We will explore this vast spider web of fire protection, and it will either get smaller or bigger, depending on your point of view.


So, what’s new in our industry?




It used to be that you got your training from your fire department and from your state training agency. In some larger urban areas, there were county or regional training programs. There were pretty much only two places to get a higher education in fire protection: the University of Maryland for fire protection engineering and the Oklahoma State University for fire protection technology. Community colleges started offering associate degrees in fire and safety. There were relatively few textbooks; some states wrote their own. The International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) was a consortium of state fire programs that got together to write textbooks to take advantage of reduced printing costs by creating a larger volume. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) published a few books. Individuals had libraries that pretty much had everything published on fire protection. Today there is a complete subindustry on fire training that includes publishing, trade shows, conferences, and teaching. Teaching has become a worldwide event with fire trainers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe participating in the global war on terrorism, teaching firefighting in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.


We can now get degrees in fire protection all the way through the doctoral level. Masters’ degrees in fire protection, emergency management, public safety, and homeland security are commonplace. Degrees are available through the Internet, community colleges, as well as state and private colleges. Many communities minimally require an associate degree to become a firefighter. Some departments only hire candidates who already are paramedics.




Some things to keep an eye on in the field of fire apparatus include bulletproof glass for fire apparatus. Yes, bulletproof glass. We have seen bulletproof glass on ARFF rigs to protect them from shrapnel from the breaking up of aircraft due to explosion or from the violence of a crash. Now we are considering bullet-proof glass to protect us from actual bullets. Additionally, we are considering bulletproof glass to protect us from burnover situations where the vehicle, in many cases, provides a good deal of protection—except when the glass fails. Probably a less expensive and more practical way to go is fire curtains in fire apparatus. We are also finding that bulletproof glass is degraded by UV. Not to worry—there are UV-protective shields available to protect bulletproof glass that fit over the outside of the window. These are used by the Secret Service and other agencies that deal with a large amount of vehicles with bulletproof glass.


Another area to watch is the combination of technologies: air over hydraulics; electric over hydraulics; compressed air systems that propel fire agents and support breathing air and rescue tools; and using aerial hydraulics to also operate tools, generators, and compressors. Keep an eye on alternative fuel vehicles for firefighting, rescue, and EMS.


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)


Many ARFF departments have walked away from aluminized turnout gear. This is currently not supported by the NFPA, Federal Aviation Administration, or Department of Defense (DoD). While we have been talking about it for years, we have not developed a turnout gear product that can beat the radiant heat protection of aluminized gear. The DoD has challenged the PPE industry to produce turnout gear that offers the benefits of aluminized gear and has the comfort and durability of structural gear. The carrot is a large-volume sale to the U.S. Air Force—the single largest user of aluminized turnout gear.


We have made the crossover in ARFF foot protection. Leather boots are now available that meet the requirements for ARFF and structural firefighting. For the time being, the best thing to do is have two separate sets of gear.


Buying Mechanisms


There are many ways to purchase goods and services in our industry. Most organizations have a purchasing department that receives a requisition and then sources the goods or goes out to public bid. In recent years, various communities have banded together to buy items collectively, saving time and, in most cases, increasing volume to achieve larger discounts.


The largest collective buying group for municipalities is U.S. Communities ( U.S. Communities uses a prime vendor program that allows communities to buy from a massive list of items, compiled after a competitive selection process, without going out to bid. Items not on the list can be added to accommodate community needs. This program has been used by communities for a long time in nonfire categories such as office supplies. The fire and emergency services program is relatively new, so the purchasing department might not be aware that it can now buy fire and rescue equipment through the program.


The largest collective buying group for the Federal Government is GSA ( GSA is divided into schedules, which are product group categories. Schedule 84 covers law enforcement, fire, and security. Local governments can now purchase off of Schedule 84. Within the DoD, there are very specific buying processes including buying though the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). DLA has a special program for fire and emergency services that allows DoD entities to sidestep the traditional system and purchase through a group of preselected vendors. DoD entities must preregister to use the system. Another site to look into that is very handy at the end of the fiscal year is


The State of New York, in conjunction with the National Association of State Procurement Officials, has established multistate, comprehensive, multiple-award contracts with authorized distributors or manufacturers. Called the Hazardous Incident Response Equipment (HIRE) Contract, 20 states participate in this program ( Although this program is designed as a multistate capable program, other states have similar programs just for themselves.


Each state has a state-level forest service entity that has access to the federal surplus property program. The Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) Program ( refers to property owned by the United States Forest Service (USFS) that is loaned to state foresters through a cooperative agreement for the purpose of wildland and rural firefighting. State foresters and the USFS have mutually participated in this program since 1956. Since this is a loan program, ownership of all federal excess personal property transferred to and used by local fire companies remains with the Federal Government. Equipment obtained through this program is on loan for as long as the local fire company has a need for it. Federal excess personal property that is no longer useful or economical to maintain must be returned for disposal by the federal government.


SAM GOLDWATER’s fire protection career spans 40 years. He has been assigned to engines, trucks, heavy rescues, and ambulances. While on the staff of IFSTA, he worked with many fire departments in North America developing training materials. He has sat on several NFPA committees and has worked with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Wildland Firefighters Foundation. He has worked with manufacturers and distributors of fire equipment, is a past recipient of the Joe Fishelson Award, and is president of Samuel Goldwater and Associates.


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