FRI 2017 Quick Take: Top 5 general session takeaways

By Kerri Hatt, FireRescue1 Senior Editor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Fire-Rescue International is in full swing, and IAFC is officially under new leadership after attendees gathered in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention Center Thursday morning for the FRI General Session.

Winston Kelley, executive director, NASCAR Hall of Fame, emceed the event, and the Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, welcomed attendees to the city and praised their dedication to the fire service.

Memorable quotes from FRI 2017 General Session:

  • FEMA Director Brock Long told attendees, “while your mission is growing more complex, so is mine. We have to refocus on the way we train our citizens to be prepared.” Since October 2007, FEMA has distributed 5 billion dollars in fire preparedness grants. “We have a lot to do in my opinion to create that culture of preparedness and I look forward to supporting you.”
  • “It is not OK.” Numerous fire chiefs decried bullying in the fire service in a roundup video shown at the opening session. “Bullies in the workplace create a hostile environment … as leaders, we need to acknowledge it exists and drive it out of the workplace.”
  • “Be passionate about serving as a chief. Be passionate about working for the fire department. Remember that this is still the best job in the world. Be passionate in serving your community in whatever complex scope they need us to fill the void,” advised incoming IAFC president Chief Tom Jenkins.
  • “We need each other because we go to some horrific events and it takes a toll. But every time it takes a toll on us, it takes a toll on the community in ways we don’t even recognize – and we are part of the way communities heal. Our job description is to place ourselves between danger and the citizens we serve. Whether it’s a huge rescue or the compassion to helping someone in need and the compassion to help each other – that is vitally important. If you can’t help the patient, make sure that you help the family,” outgoing IAFC president Chief John Sinclair said.

This diverse group of fire and civic leaders offered a wealth of support, idea exchange and inspiration throughout the general session. Here are a few takeaways:

1. International firefighter fellowship builds cultural exchange

Chief Sinclair introduced a video portraying a recent visit from the Saudi Aramco Fire Department as part of the IAFC international Fellowship Program and thanked participants for extending their hands across the world.

The hosts, the Oklahoma City Fire Department, and the visitors agreed the cultural exchange made them all better firefighters, and the Saudi Aramco firefighters valued the exposure to the American firefighting experience and process, and the chance to improve their skills and bring them back to improve their work in Saudi Arabia.

With comments such as, “firefighters are firefighters, wherever they are,” and a focus on the passion displayed by the host firefighters, the visiting firefighters also took home a feeling of camaraderie.

2. Fire training is more important than ever

Dr. Denis Onieal, acting administrator, United States Fire Administration, explained four reasons why firefighters need continued training and data analysis skills:

  • Today’s modern home results in faster fire spread, less time to flashover, less time to escape and more rapid collapse. “That threatens your firefighters. That threatens your citizens,” he said.
  • Baby Boomers are placing high demand on emergency medical services. Citing average age and life expectations, Chief Onieal noted, “we’ve got 23 more years of high demand by your most vulnerable population.”
  • Wildland fires: “What was once seasonal is now perpetual,” Chief Onieal stressed. “This is a nationwide issue.”
  • Fire departments are now an integral part of the response to active shooters. Chief Onieal noted first responders to the recent shooting of Dallas police officers was a fire crew.

3. Improve regional emergency medical services

The general session featured three brief Chief Chats, a take on popular education TED Talks from fire and emergency-service leaders on topics important to today’s fire and emergency service.

Dr. Joseph Ornato, professor and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, and medical director of the Richmond Ambulance Authority, Richmond Fire and EMS, and Henrico County Fire & EMS, Richmond, Va., recounted how his experience with a medical emergency changed his perspective on emergency medicine.

Suffering from acute bilateral pneumonia, Dr. Ornato found himself experiencing a massive blood clot that traveled to his lungs – a condition he knew carried a one in 200 survival rate. He was able to advise the first responders, whom he knew, to bypass regional medical protocols and to transport him to his own hospital with rare forms of advanced cardiac care, where he was treated and survived.

This experience inspired him to work with local departments to enable two local hospitals to be able to offer similar emergency care. His bottom-line message: “continue to help build your regional emergency medicine as if your life and the lives of those you care about depend on it.”

4. Study disruptive technologies and their impact on the fire service

Chief Richard Price, founder and president of the PulsePoint Foundation, covered disruptive technologies in his Chief Chat, using the example of autonomous vehicles.

Disruptive technologies are those that have the capacity to drastically alter industries and the economy. When autonomous vehicles hit the market, it’s predicted they will eliminate 300,000 jobs each year. As they replace regular vehicles, they will reduce or eliminate the need for parking, and parking lot and ticket revenues. Traffic officers will no longer be needed. Automobile insurance will become obsolete. Orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and x-ray technicians will feel the reduction in automobile accidents.

Chief Price noted critiques of 911 are warning signs encouraging innovation. Remember 911 is crowd sourced, Chief Price advised, while consumers become more engaged in the world through apps, whether it’s for ordering food or an Uber ride.

To remain competitive, first responders should have greater awareness of how technology can threaten and impact the fire service organization. “Being proactive is better than being reactive,” he said. “We have to innovate in our organizations. In the fire service we love our jobs, we don’t want to change. But if we don’t innovate, it’s at our own peril.”

5. Be passionate about your citizens as a fire chief

Chief Tom Jenkins, City of Rogers, Ark., IAFC first vice president and incoming president, related how the fire station is symbolic of all the good fire departments do in the community, and a symbol of safety.

Chief Jenkins used the example of Mandy, a citizen in his community who was served by his department twice: once for the expedient early birth of her daughter, and again when her home was threatened by fire. When Mandy came to the station to thank the firefighters, Chief Jenkins asked how she was doing in a difficult time. She responded that she was OK. She was thankful for her daughter's health. And she was thankful because she knew if she ever needed anything, she could count on her local firefighters, and her parents who lived nearby.

Chief Jenkins was struck by the organic, from-the-heart-order in which she placed his firefighters as people who could be trusted and who were part of her personal support network.

While physical resources like firefighters, fire stations or apparatus are tangible evidence of successful chief, Chief Jenkins noted that the community doesn’t care what color fire trucks are, or whether they carry accreditation stickers. He encouraged attendees to be passionate about their own Mandy's, and their Grace's – Mandy’s daughter, who celebrated her first birthday at the fire station with the firefighters who delivered her.

Celebrating greatness in the fire service

  • Pierce Manufacturing-sponsored Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year: Brian Wade of the North Lenoir Fire & Rescue Department in Kinston, N.C. – is dedicated to training the next generation of firefighters. Under his leadership, his department is one of the premier training facilities in the region – complete with a dedicated flashover simulator, T-box burn simulator and a training tower; as well as a an officer and leadership development program.
  • Pierce Manufacturing-sponsored Career Fire Chief of the Year: Marvin Riggins of the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department in Macon, Ga., a celebrated 38-year fire service veteran – a dedicated and valued member of the community. When offered an early retirement package, decided to remain on as chief to maintain continuity and leadership and to bring up a new generation of command staff.
  • 2017 IAFC/Motorola Solutions Ben Franklin Award for Valor: Monroe (Ohio) Fire Department – after multiple lightning strikes ignited the roof of a retirement complex, the first responding crew acted with courage and expertise to save the lives of senior citizens trapped on the top floor, directly under the burning roof. In what could have been a catastrophic situation, instead all of the residents were rescued as the fire spread, before the roof collapsed and thick smoke rapidly engulfed the three-story building.
  • IAFC President's Awards of Recognition:
    • Dr. Denis Onieal, acting U.S., fire administrator
    • Luther L. Fincher, IAFC Board of Directors, retired chief, Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department

New IAFC leadership

The general session concluded with the installation of the 2017-2018 IAFC officers:

  • President and Chairman of the Board: Chief Tom Jenkins, City of Rogers, Ark.
  • First Vice President: Chief Gary Curmode, Copper Mountain Fire Department, Colo.
  • Second Vice President: Chief Dan Eggleston, Albemarle County Department of Fire and Rescue, Va.
  • Immediate Past President: Chief John Sinclair, Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue, Wash.

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