David vs. Goliath: Attacking the U.S. Fire Problem

Let me share the story of a modern day Fire Service David that is planning on challenging the Goliath, which we all know as the American Fire Service.


One of the great battles in history involved the young David and the giant Philistine soldier Goliath. The facts of the battle are simple. A young lad armed with a slingshot device and five stones took on the enemy's fiercest warrior. After whacking the giant on the head and stunning him with a well-aimed shot, David went up, drew the giant's sword and cut off his head.

Let me now share the story of a modern day Fire Service David that is planning on challenging the Goliath, which we all know as the American Fire Service. One of my roles in life is serving as the Vice President of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers. To say that we are a small organization is to give us too much credit.

However, a number of us have worked hard to make our way in the world and have had an impact of varying degrees on the fire service. Perhaps you have heard of us. My friend Greg Cade, our next U.S. Fire Administrator, my buddy Dr. Cortez Lawrence, and I are all members in good standing of this tiny organization. We all applied for admission and had our education credentials reviewed for membership in the Institution of Fire Engineers, a worldwide organization with chapters in countries around the world. We share their love and respect for knowledge, education, and professional excellence.

Our organization also has a member who is a real sparkplug when it comes to fire prevention and life safety matters. I have been promising this buddy that I would write one of my weekly commentaries which would enlighten you all about a plan that he has for addressing the fire problems in the United States.

In one of my commentaries back in 2006, I wrote about the devil being in the details of any human undertaking. I believe those thoughts remain quite valid indeed. Goals are great things, but achieving them can be a real bear of a task. Ozzie Mirkhah of the Las Vegas Fire Department agrees with me. He thinks that our efforts to lower firefighter deaths are too splintered. He thinks that there are too many simultaneous agendas being advanced by people interested in the same issues. He thinks we are not looking at the big picture.

His suggestion is that we need to move all of our efforts to a higher plane. He believes that we need to bring all of the disparate organizations of the fire service together into a common effort to attack all fire death-related issues, civilian and fire service, along a common front. He believes the effort is long overdue.

He is not wrong. The efforts to attack the problem of fire on the national level date back to 1947, the year of my birth. I have had the privilege of reviewing the report of the Proceedings of the President's Conference on Fire Prevention, which was held on May 6-8, 1947. The effort has continued through the years.

However, Ozzie and I are not pleased with the overall impact of what has been attempted over the decades. In spite of the efforts over the past six decades, our great nation ranks far down on the list of fire safety among the nations of the world.

Many of you are aware of the Report of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, which we all now know as America Burning, issued in 1973. It was this report that led to the formation of the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy. I do not want to say that I have been studying this topic for a long time, but I can recall when the fire administration was a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

I can recall attending the meetings in Washington, DC where moving the fire administration to a new agency to be known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency was discussed. I can also recall our debates over whether the infant National Fire Academy should be based at the Margery Webster College Campus or at the Mt. St. Joseph's location where it now does its great works. By jolly, this discussion is making me feel ancient.

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