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.

We also created a special program to install automatic sprinkler suppression systems during the renovation process which took place during the 1980's. Even the locations that were on wells had the appropriate automatic fire suppression installed. Our efforts in those days left a legacy of protection in our military armories that exists to this very day.

Let me get back to the central thesis of this message to you. We need to create a higher level focus on the problem of fire in America. Ozzie suggested that we had to do something to bring all of the players to the table to address the total problem of fire in America.

I agree with him. As a man who has the benefit of a long-term perspective, I sometimes think that we have been steaming mightily in circles. At other times I see us as a whole flock of Don Quixote's roaming far and wide across the nation tilting at the latest round of politically-correct windmills; but never reaching the goal of true victory.

Ozzie is a man truly possessed when it comes to the issues of fire deaths and injuries. Although his main thrust is in the areas of proper construction, code compliance and inspections, and life safety, he sees all of our fire loss, and death and injury problems as having a common basis. He has long believed that there can be a common solution. However, he sees the need to create a new overall thrust that encompasses all of the players in the world of fire and life safety.

Last year at the Annual Meeting of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers held at the Fire Rescue International Conference in Dallas, Ozzie delivered a passionate message regarding the need to shake up the way America looks at the fire problem. As an association, we have decided to adopt Ozzie's cause as our own.

During my four decades in the fire service I have seen the major organizations come together. As a matter of fact I once was privileged to attend the meeting of the old Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations as a representative of one of the member organizations. I did this for nearly five years. Perhaps it was just the naiveté of my youth, but it seemed like we were all on the same page back in those days. Then for whatever the reason, the organizations began to drift apart.

Let me tell you what helped to bring our organizations together again my friends. I can recall attending the Fire Service Summit Meetings in Virginia when I was the First Vice President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Enlightened leaders like Dennis Compton of Arizona, and Steve Austin of Delaware, among others, fought to bring us all together in a quest for federal funding of the fire service. We backed Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey in his efforts to get the FIRE Act passed. We were successful.

We have also come together on the issue of line of duty deaths in the fire service. The Sixteen Initiatives of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation now serve as a guiding light, a beacon, pointing us in the right direction. Our goal is to lower the annual death rate of firefighters. This is a truly noble endeavor. But Ozzie and I think that more can be done.

If we could come to a higher plane and attack the root cause of fire destruction in our nation many great things might come to pass. If there were fewer fires then it is possible that there would be fewer deaths of all types, both civilian and fire service. The dollars lost would be lessoned and the impact upon our economy reduced.

This is the mission that the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers has chosen to accept. We now have to emulate the lesson of that old children's story which speaks about the little engine that could. Our Branch is that little engine. We have a fairly daunting task in front of us, but we have chosen to attack the problem head on. To that end, we are applying for a grant from the federal government to assist us in creating this national-level summit.

It is our intention to think big. It is our intention to once again show that the many parts of our fire service can accomplish more by coming together in a common forum. I challenge you to join us in our efforts. I challenge you to adopt what I have come to know as the START approach to the living of life.