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.
Wilton (CT) Fire Department
Tuesday, April 19, 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
Being a leadership and safety advocate, author, and lecturer for more than 20 years, I thought it appropriate to combine the two. The class is geared toward the responsibilities of company officers, but incident safety officers, health and safety officers as well as other “fire bosses” can learn from this experience. If I had to put my finger on what motivates me to teach such a class, it would be my 18 years with the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation (NFFF). I teach this class to give the students the tools they need to do anything in their power to get in between their firefighters and an injury or worse.
This year, I will be the deputy incident commander for the NFFF Memorial weekend. In addition, I’ve been active with the LAST and Everyone Goes Home programs for more than 10 years. I’ve seen the grief, the tears, and the anguish on the faces of the families and the firefighters who are left to pick up the pieces after a line-of-duty death.
I have gotten mixed feedback from my students. I attribute this to the fact that the masses are never ready for change. Moving the fire service toward a safer working process requires change, and lots of it. They leave class excited with a handful of tools, programs, and the right attitude–until they get back home and lay it all on the desk of the chief or some other boss. For those fire departments that are progressive and current, the safety firefighters easily get through. For the old-school departments, it’s a lot harder to do safety leadership. There are hard lessons to learn: We don’t wear masks at most fires and never during overhaul. There’s a rampant cancer rate in those departments. The old-school tough guys are dying because they are/were old-school tough guys. This is about being smart. We have the technology, the tools, and the equipment to work safer and stay healthier than ever before. Now, we need the leadership to make it happen. Those who have hit the wall on returning home have called me and asked about how to get it done. I tell them to go through the wall, around it, over it, or knock it down. It’s daunting, but someone has to do it. I look forward to reading in a fire service history book someday soon about how the Everyone Goes Home program and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network were instrumental in helping to lick the current health problems that plague today’s American fire service. It’s up to all of us.