FIRE CHIEF RICHIE BOWERS Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue Service

Firehouse: Please explain the “Risk Assessment” program for the department and what it means.

Bowers: Our “Risk Assessment and Decision Making on the Fireground” is a training program that was developed by our department and focuses training on scene size-up, risk assessment and decision making at structure fires. The training is targeted at company officers and first-arriving personnel. Our company officers make or break the incidents they respond to, so this is where we have placed the training emphasis with the program. The training program discusses strategy and tactical considerations for initial-arriving personnel in order to formulate fireground operational decisions at structure fires. This training program brings today’s fire environment into the reality of command and company officers’ decision making on the fireground.

The training program was delivered by all of our certified chief officers to their company personnel. This specific training has positively impacted our company officers with their risk assessments at structure fires and their strategy and tactical decision making on the fireground.


Firehouse: I understand there is a new Mayday prop at the fire academy. Please explain its function.

Bowers: Montgomery County Fire and Rescue has experienced several recent firefighter Maydays involving catastrophic structural floor collapses. I asked our training staff to develop an in-service training program that included a hands-on structural floor collapse prop that the entire department could experience.

The program provided focused training on flashover, firefighter self-rescue and a firefighter Mayday floor-collapse scenario. Our personnel rotated through our flashover simulator, performed firefighter self-rescue techniques and experienced an actual floor collapse in our new Mayday training prop.

The floor-collapse training simulator was built to produce a catastrophic floor collapse during fireground operations. The training prop is air actuated and when activated by the instructor, the floor collapses under the firefighter, causing the firefighter to fall approximately 22 inches into a padded area. The firefighter is to then transmit a Mayday by portable radio and perform a self-rescue technique to exit the collapsed floor area.

The floor-collapse training simulator is innovative and cutting-edge technology. This specific training has provided some of the finest in-service training that department personnel have ever experienced. Many of our seasoned members indicated it is the best in-service training experience they have been exposed to in their careers.


Firehouse: What other types of specific training do career firefighters undergo while at the training academy?

Bowers: Montgomery County Fire and Rescue is an “all-hazards,” fire-based-EMS response department. Besides mandatory certifications in fire, EMS and hazardous materials, career recruits have a comprehensive 24-week training program. Training topics include the following: daily physical fitness; cultural diversity; equal employment opportunity and the related laws; “Risk Assessment and Decision Making at Structure Fires”; Mayday training; flashover simulator training; critical incident stress management; report writing and “The Missing Protocol” lecture; confined space and weapons of mass destruction awareness; strategies and tactics; firefighter survival and rescue; Metro operations; International Trauma Life Support; Pediatric Education For Pre-Hospital Professionals; mobile data communications; Outlook Web Access email; Telestaff scheduling program; radio portable/mobile operations; electronic patient care reporting; firehouse reporting; firefighter-paramedic street survival; and review of Chief’s General Orders, policies, county regulations, Emergency Vehicle Operations Course, National Incident Management System, Incumbent Performance Evaluation Wellness and Fitness, Firefighter Near Miss Program, Pro-Board/career development and public education outreach.


Firehouse: Are there plans for a new training academy and, if so, what will it look like?

Bowers: There are plans for the construction of a new, state-of–the-art, joint fire-police training facility. The new proposed training facility will have advanced classroom technology platforms and practical skills areas for fire, rescue and EMS training. The fire training building will have a high bay with a practical training area that is weather protected. There will be a practical rescue area for vehicle and machinery extrication training. A basic and advanced life support EMS simulation training room with simulation manikins for patient assessments and skills training will also be incorporated. There will be a Command Development and Competency classroom and lab to conduct command competency evaluations. One other unique practical-skills component of the new training facility will be the all-hazards “city-scape” design training area for fire and law enforcement personnel to practice tactical techniques at various building layouts.


Firehouse: Is the fire department moving into a new public safety complex? How will that help the department?

Bowers: The department is moving this year into a joint public safety complex with the Montgomery County Police Department. Both departments will benefit from greater efficiencies by centrally consolidating our department divisions, sections and resources into one location. The departments will gain business and operational efficiencies with the move into the public safety headquarters.

Firehouse: You have been involved in the investigation of several firefighter fatalities. How do you incorporate lessons learned from the after-action reports into everyday training?

Bowers: I have had several opportunities to serve on firefighter fatality and significant-injury report investigation teams in my career. Every department needs to review the lessons learned from these unfortunate and tragic events as these incidents can happen in any department. There is no doubt that you can “take the patch” off any one of those incidents and put your own department patch on the report.

Our department learns by reviewing the report information at both the battalion and company levels. Firefighter fatality and significant injury reports are distributed department wide. Our training and safety sections as well as field battalion chiefs and company officers discuss the report information and the lessons learned with the troops. Company officers drill with their personnel and focus on the incident chain of events and lessons learned from those reports.


Firehouse: Did you come up with the phrase “Train, Train, Train”? What does it represent?

Bowers: The importance of training was instilled upon me the first day one I got into the department. I did coin the phrase “Train, Train, Train” because my belief is that training builds competence and confidence. My expectation is for the troops to focus on the fundamentals and execute the basics perfectly.

Training is what builds the instinctive and intuitive reactions that make a difference during incident response and operations. Our department embraces training and the troops are always engaged in various training activities. My job is to provide those training opportunities so personnel can build their competence and confidence. I am very proud of our department personnel because of their technical competence and their commitment to continually “Train, Train, Train.”


Firehouse: Can you explain the Command Competency Program and what all chief officers are required to do?

Bowers: The Command Competency Program targets all of our certified chief officers (command officers) in the department. All chief officers from the fire chief to battalion chiefs are required to successfully perform an annual simulated Incident Command Competency Evaluation and an online knowledge competency exam. An incident scenario is developed that is consistent with our incident-response data. Peer evaluators are utilized to assess the knowledge skill and abilities of all command officers in the department. The Command Competency Program has greatly improved our incident command, fireground operations and safety. Our command officers now operate on the same page and hit the same critical incident command benchmarks during incident operations.


Firehouse: How have you and other chiefs worked recently on shrinking budgets and sharing resources?

Bowers: Fire chiefs from the National Capital Region and Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan areas have convened meetings to discuss budget challenges and how we may be able to share resources. The discussions have benefited each department chief and several innovative ideas and strategies have developed from those discussions. It is extremely beneficial to have colleagues who are willing to meet, share thoughts, ideas and information. Their efforts are appreciated and respected.

Firehouse: What budget strategies have you developed to maintain essential services during these challenging economic times?

Bowers: Developing sound budget and fiscal strategies is extremely important during challenging economic times. Our strategy and focus has been to maintain our fire-based EMS service-delivery model capability of responding to structure fires and critical advanced life support (ALS) medical care with our ALS engines and ladders and in “preventing the 911 call.” This is how we save lives, reduce property damage and prevent injuries. Data-driven decisions related to response-time coverage and focusing on getting the troops what they need in order to maintain our essential service-delivery model is a primary strategy. Our elected officials and county residents greatly support our fire-based EMS service delivery model because of our positive performance measures in the critical areas of structure fire and ALS incident response times. We have also aggressively applied for federal grants.


Firehouse: Are new stations planned, relocated or in need of renovation to keep up with growth in the county?

Bowers: There are several new fire and rescue stations planned to be constructed, relocated and renovated. Our department does an excellent job in master and strategic planning in the area of station site selection and resource deployment. We have forecasted by Census and GIS data the need and have planned for several new stations, the relocation of a couple of stations and renovating numerous others. Our Capital Improvement Project funding plan carries out some of these priorities for the next five to 10 years.


Firehouse: Does the department plan to hire personnel soon?

Bowers: Presently, the department has funding for two recruit classes in this fiscal year. One class starts in February and the second class begins in June. We have implemented the hiring process for Trained Certified Personnel (TCPs) that have National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Firefighter II, Hazardous Materials Operations and Maryland EMT-B or ALS certifications. The two TCP recruit schools have been restructured so that the recruits are able to complete their training and be placed into vacant field staff positions.


Firehouse: Have you made any other changes to conserve money?

Bowers: The department has examined every opportunity and option to conserve funds. For example, we consolidated our cellular carriers, bundled minutes and text-ing options together and negotiated cost-saving contracts with cellular vendors to reduce expenses. The department has also gone through a strategic division restructuring that has saved money by consolidating resources and redistributing duties, responsibilities and work assignments. The department is presently reviewing our response protocols and certain call types and responses to possibly reduce apparatus-response costs. n