If there was a unifying concept behind this year_s Fire-Rescue International (FRI), it was support and safety ƒ the„support that membership in the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) gives to fire officers and chiefs, and the attention to„safety that must be paramount in everything that fire chiefs do, because the survival of their firefighters depends on them.
Held during one of the hottest weeks so far this year in„Atlanta, the conference was packed with activities, and the various events were packed with attendees. Some highlights include:
The conference officially kicked off at Thursday_s general session, in which U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Greg Cade called on fire departments to ˙join me in realizing and supporting our similarities.Ó Cade also emphasized safety, pointing out that the U.S. Fire Service is on track to log 120 line-of-duty-deaths this year.
During this session the IAFC_s Award for Excellence was given to the„Orange„County (Fla.) Fire Department for its Wellness Program, which is available to every firefighter in the department and has helped the department cut worker_s compensation injuries by 63 percent.
Keynote speaker„Tom„Bay, who suffers from a rare form of cancer that afflicts firefighters in highly disproportionate numbers, underscored how important it is for fire officers to take care of themselves and their crew by reducing exposure to dangerous toxins. As Bay pointed out, strategies as simple as cleaning turnouts after every call and showering immediately upon returning to the station can help reduce the exposure firefighters have to cancer-causing chemicals.
Bay also provided a helpful way to think about firefighters, and people in general. They are either ˙ducks,Ó who spend their lives quacking (complaining), or they are ˙eagles,Ó who are not limited by the circumstances dealt to them, but rather soar above it all to achieve new and greater things. Bay challenged audience members to remember this dichotomy the next time they were having a bad day, and to strive always to be ˙eagles who soar.Ó
Outgoing IAFC President Chief Jim Harmes promised the general session on Friday morning would ˙rock the house,Ó and he wasn_t kidding. The Rhythm Extreme Grinders started out the session with a drum routine punctuated with acrobatics. Toward the end of the performance, Chief Harmes, clad in Atlanta Fire-Rescue turnouts, joined the troupe for a ˙grindingÓ session, producing a shower of sparks over those in the front seats. The Grinders would reappear at the end of the session, when Elsevier Public Safety_s own Jeff Berend joined in the drumming fun.
Building on the theme of support, Acting Chief Harold Miller of the Atlanta Fire-Rescue Department appealed to all new chiefs, saying, ˙When they hand you the five bugles, they don_t necessarily give you the wisdom to do the job. But I knew I could lean on this organization. If you need help, don_t hesitate to ask.Ó
The general session also included the Fire Chief of the Year awards, given to Russell Tarver, Regional Fire Chief and Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces,„Japan,„ and Michael Varnay, chief of the Ellington (CT) Volunteer Fire Department. Kelly Kirwan, vice president of Motorola, presented the Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor to the crew of Truck 8 from the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
The crew, consisting of„Lieutenant Brian Moffitt, Driver Engineer Christopher Richardson, Firefighter Nicholas Chapel and Firefighter Ryan Douglas, responded to a fully involved apartment fire in January. When they arrived on scene, many people were trapped and hanging from their balconies, desperate to escape the smoke and heat. The crew of Truck 8 performed 20 rescues in extremely challenging conditions.
Although the presentation included video from the incident, it was actually the after-incident photos that were the most chilling. Looking at the apartment complex reduced to a burnt out shell, it was hard to imagine anyone getting out alive, let alone the 85 people that fire crews rescued that night, 20 of whom were rescued by just 4 men. (Read more on the crew_s actions.)
In a somber ceremony, Colorado Springs Chief Manuel Navarro hung the medal of valor on each of his men, then saluted them. It provided a moment for those of us in the audience to reflect on the true meaning of bravery and valor, and the actions of these men, not to mention the lives that might have been lost were it not for their quick, decisive and brave actions. Kirwan then recognized Chief Navarro with the departmental leadership award for his professionalism, service to the community and leadership.
Keynote presenter Mike Lipkin, an author and motivational speaker, provided an inspiring and energetic start to the main part of the conference. ˙I come to you not as someone who_s about„preventing fires, as all you are,Ó he said, ˙but as someone who_s about„lighting fires.Ó With humor and energy, Lipkin walked the audience through„10 strategies for ˙keeping the flame,Ó noting that ˙when the fire dies down, the predators creep in.Ó His message was very much about living in the moment, making every action, every meeting, count.
Down on the exhibit floor, attendees took advantage of more than 500 exhibitors from the fire industry. The hall was packed most of Friday, and there was plenty to keep attendees coming back Saturday, including the Expo Classroom, which featured bonus educational sessions on topics as wide ranging as Getting What You Want from Washington, Mutual Aid 101, and Best Practices for Fighting Ethanol Blended Fuel Fires, as well as many free giveaways from the IAFC.
On Saturday night the conference came to a close, as did Chief Harmes_ year as IAFC president. He bid farewell to the membership and the board at the Presidential Celebration, where he accepted gifts from the various IAFC sections in recognition of his leadership over the past year. The event was also a bit of a ˙roastÓ of sorts, with jokes centered around Harmes_„Michigan roots and his ever-present smile.
In an at-times emotional speech, Incoming President Chief Steve Westermann accepted the gavel of the presidency, saying he hoped to build on Harmes_ leadership and announcing that the theme for his year at the helm will be ˙Soaring to New HeightsÓÚ a theme which would have made Tom Bay happy indeed.
Shannon Pieper„is managing editor of„FireRescue„ magazine, the official publication of the IAFC.