Within the contents of this article I have two different themes: The Chief Officer and Terrorism Training. The information may be disjointed to some degree, but I feel it will be very valuable to the reader.
Over the last couple of decades I have noticed a trend taking place within the fire service. The chief officer has become more of an administrator, staff officer, and less of a line officer. As the progression of the fire department continues, we have become more and more technically advanced. In addition, the same has occurred within the administrative function of the fire department. The fire service has become very complicated and complex.
The Chief Officer
Over the last several years, maybe 15 or 20 years, the fire service has progressed into several different specialties. These special areas of training include hazardous materials, paramedic/medical training, bloodborne pathogens, swiftwater rescue, pre-fire planning, high angle rescue, heavy rescue, high rise firefighting operations, urban search and rescue, confined space entry, urban/rural wildland interface, and many more. Now a new one is being introduced all over the country by several different agencies, Emergency Response to Terrorism.
The administrative function of the chief officer continues to be demanding. The regulations and requirements from agencies such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has become a critical focus to the administration of the fire department today. The NFPA Standards have also shared the spot light in their importance to the administration of the fire department. Let us take a brief look at just one: NFPA 1500 Standard "Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Programs" with its' 66 pages and the 15 page checklist for compliance is an immense undertaking for any fire department to comply with. After working as a Battalion Chief myself, I can testify that the job of a Chief Officer, is a never ending job. The administration of a fire department today is a very demanding and a complex job to do it right.
The aspect I want to address in this particular article, is one in which everyone tries to ignore. Chief officers are so busy in their administrative function they start to become deficient in their technical abilities. They are not keeping up with training for their line duties. Now this only applies with those chiefs that have the dual function of both staff and line duties. Many of these chiefs don't usually train or drill daily with their fire companies. They just can't work the drills or training into their busy schedules. Now, I'm only commenting about this from my own experiences and observations. My own department, region and the various departments I come into contact throughout the United States. Maybe some fire departments have the chief officer actually drilling/training with their companies daily. I just know when we conduct major specialized drills such as hazardous materials, confined space, etc. the chiefs are often missing from the class. There has been numerous comments over the years by personnel at these training activities, "Where are the chiefs?"
I recently became an instructor, Emergency Response to Terrorism, by the National Fire Academy in cooperation with the Department of Justice. I saw a problem with this particular training program. The sixteen hour, 2 day, program is just too long for the chief officer to attend. As of a matter of fact there are fire departments already indicating they will condense the program into a 8 hour (1 day) program for the their line personnel.
The main problem most people see with this particular situation is a training deficiency exist and the chief is normally in charge at the incident. If the chief officer hasn't had the same training or at least some sort of a condensed overview version. Then how smooth, safe, and efficient is the operation going to be?