An American Fire Officer's Journey Across "The Pond"

Dr. Bill Lowe recounts his adventure in learning by participating in the Fire and Emergency Management Program's symposium uniting fire service professionals from the United States and United Kingdom.


Perhaps the most profound learning experience of my fire service career started with a call from a classmate in the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program: "Hey, Oklahoma State University is accepting applications from American fire officers interested in visiting the United Kingdom...


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Perhaps the most profound learning experience of my fire service career started with a call from a classmate in the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program: "Hey, Oklahoma State University is accepting applications from American fire officers interested in visiting the United Kingdom and Scottish fire academies. You should apply, and here's the contact information."

After reviewing the paperwork and speaking with Dr. Bob England, Oklahoma State University professor of political science and co-founder of the Fire and Emergency Management Program, I applied for one of the symposium slots. Dr. England told me the purpose of this symposium was to unite fire officers from the United Kingdom and United States to discuss concerns about fire service operations. The program was also designed to introduce U.S. fire officers to United Kingdom fire service policies, apparatus and operating procedures.

Shortly after the selection committee met, I received an e-mail telling me that I was chosen for one of the coveted slots. My only personal cost for attending the 12-day program was a roundtrip airplane ticket ($700) to London's Heathrow Airport and a $600 administrative fee to cover the charter bus for our many ground excursions. I was fortunate because my department approved the trip as a training assignment, so I was not charged vacation time - thanks, Chief!

As expected, there were numerous e-mail exchanges and scheduling revisions as the date of the symposium approached. As with everything in the fire service, planning is critical. I have to acknowledge there were butterflies when considering how far I was from home and for how long. After a 10-hour flight with a stop in Paris, I found myself in London getting my checked luggage, clearing customs, and navigating through London's Heathrow Airport.

Security was very obvious with roving patrols of constables with MP5 submachine guns held at the ready position. For an American used to police officers armed with pistols, seeing the constables with machine guns on tactical slings was a cultural enlightenment. The travel agenda had specified our rallying point at Heathrow since the U.S. participants were arriving on different flights originating from all over the United States. As I rounded a corner, it was a reassuring sight to see many familiar faces from my frequent National Fire Academy classes sitting in chairs and drinking tea.

Days 1 & 2 - Travel to and arrival at the UK Fire Service College
Eventually, all of the U.S. participants arrived without incident, and our UK Fire Service College host welcomed us to the United Kingdom. A charter bus transported us for the two-hour trip to The Fire Service College (FSC), a 550-acre training complex that is a former Royal Air Force base. The drill field has some 30 burn structures of various configurations, including large, multi-story warehouses, full-scale apartment buildings, a cargo ship, a replica oil-drilling platform, a train yard, military and commercial aircraft, and a replica of the Oklahoma City federal building in its post-detonation stage. This structure is used to teach building collapse - the upright structure contains classrooms and the collapse debris pile is used with the practical evolutions. Additionally, there are classrooms, dormitories, a dining hall, a store, computer labs, a library and two on-campus pubs (http://www.fireservicecollege.ac.uk).

Days 3, 4 & 5 - U.S./UK Fire Related Research and Development Conference
Our conference planning agenda was explicit in that the United Kingdom culture has not adopted the United States' business-casual dressing standards. Consequently, all the U.S. participants dressed for success in suits and ties for all of the conference sessions and meals. As a line fire officer, it was a new experience to put on a suit and tie when leaving my dorm room for an active training day.

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