ATLANTA — The Fire-Rescue International 2019 General Session centered on the conference theme – Leadership Never Stops – through Chief Chat sessions focusing on emerging fire service issues; guest speakers from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); distinguished award presentations; and the installation of the IAFC's newest officers.
Chief Chat: Rader speaks about opioid epidemic problems and solutions
Fire Chief Jan Rader of the Huntington (West Virginia) Fire Department’s Chief Chat focused on what she called one of the worst health epidemics of our time – the opioid crisis – and its impact on fire and emergency services.
Rader shared statistics about opioid overdoses in her area, which the media has been deemed “ground zero” of the epidemic. She explained that because of the unique nature of these calls, firefighters and other first responders are suffering from compassion fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is complicated by the fact that members of the fire service have traditionally not been trained in how to the psychological end emotional impacts of the job. As a result, “the firefighters are suffering,” she said.
Shifting to a focus on solutions, Rader explained that her department received grants that allowed them to develop a wellness center that focuses on the health of first responders and their families. She hopes the program will be sustainable and replicable in other areas of the country. Further, she underscored the need to focus on recognizing the sacrifices made by firefighters, giving them a voice to speak up about their struggles, and eliminating the stigma associated with behavioral health issues. She concluded with the reminder to the fire service leaders in the room: “Change begins with leaders. Change begins with all of you.”
Chief Chat: David Hawks, CAL FIRE Butte Unit Chief and Butte County (California) Fire Chief, shared details of the preparation, response and recovery efforts related to the destructive Camp Fire in Paradise, California, in 2018.
Hawks said that although they never imagined a fire could burn through Paradise as it did, in 6-8 hours, they did know that Paradise was at risk for a serious wildfire. As such, they had developed an evacuation plan that ultimately paid dividends to protect the community when the fire swept into Paradise.
Response efforts were initially focused on life safety and rescue, Hawks said, and once they had done everything possible here, they shifted focus to the critical infrastructure and were ultimately able to save most of the schools in town.
As for recovery efforts, Paradise has a long road ahead, but “There is hope for Paradise,” Hawks said.
Hawks concluded by underscoring that our fire environment has changed, and fire chiefs need to adapt accordingly. As such, when working with elected officials, leaders need to be mindful of issues related to building construction and location. Further, he emphasized the need for community preparedness and fuels reduction.
Note: Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell also gave a Chief Chat on the subject of generational differences focusing on the newest generation of recruits – Gen Z or “Zeds.” FireRescue1 Executive Editor Marc Bashoor summarized her session here.
Hearing from the USFA and FEMA
U.S. Fire Administrator Chief G. Keith Bryant spoke about the new USFA Strategic Plan, which focuses on the need to develop a prepared and resilient fire and emergency service. “It’s much more than a plan,” he said. “We look at it as a compact with you – how we can serve you and your needs.”
Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor highlighted the three things he says fire chiefs need to know about FEMA: 1) the importance of fire and rescue in disaster response and recovery; 2) the focus on strengthening critical partnerships; and 3) the availability of disaster preparedness resources.
Every year, fire service leaders are honored during the Fire-Rescue International General Session, whether highlighting a firefighter’s bravery in the face of extreme danger or their commitment to the betterment of the fire service. FRI 2019 spotlighted a distinguished group of fire chiefs:
Fire Chiefs of the Year: Jim Johnson – president of Pierce Manufacturing, sponsor of the awards – presented the IAFC’s annual awards for Volunteer and Career Fire Chiefs of the Year:
- Volunteer: Fire Chief John Morrison, Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in Vienna, Virginia
- Career: Fire Chief James Clack, Ankeny Fire Department in Ankeny, Iowa
Ben Franklin Award of Valor: Chris Lonnett – vice president of government central region sales (North America), Motorola Solutions, sponsor of the award – presented the Ben Franklin Award of Valor to David Hawks, CAL FIRE Butte Unit Chief and Butte County (California) Fire Chief, for the leadership and bravery he showed during the destructive Camp Fire in Paradise, California, in 2018.
IAFC President’s Awards: IAFC President Dan Eggleston announced the recipients of the IAFC President’s Awards:
- Chief Dennis Compton, chairman, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Board of Directors
- Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, president and CEO, International Public Safety Data Institute
- Evan Davis, government relations strategic manager, IAFC
Installation of new IAFC officers
The General Session is also the annual time for the installation of the newest IAFC officers. This year, Steve Olshwanger, fire chief for the Maryland Heights (Missouri) Fire Department, swore in the three new officers:
- Fire Chief Gary Ludwig – president
- Fire Chief Richard Carrizzo – second vice president
- Fire Chief Steven Locke – secretary-treasurer
As new IAFC president, Chief Gary Ludwig, said he is “humbled beyond description” at the honor and responsibility, adding that, “You have just witnessed a moment that has taken my breath away.” Chief Ludwig outlined many of his goals for the IAFC in his upcoming tenure in an interview with former IAFC President Chief John M. Buckman III.
Follow more FRI 2019 conference coverage here.
Watch highlights from the general session below.