By Peter Sells
June 18, 2008
I was in a discussion recently about how we often look outside the fire service for examples of leadership. This is not a bad thing by any means. To ignore the outside world would omit the lessons of the majority of the greatest leaders history has produced. Mohandes Ghandi, Henry Ford, Martin Luther King Jr. and Benezir Bhutto were not firefighters, for example. And since I’m in Gravenhurst, Ont., as I write this, I can’t forget Norman Bethune, another accomplished non-firefighter. But the gist of the discussion was that by looking outside, we have had a tendency to neglect our own history. I resolved to make a list of fire service leaders who could serve as examples to be studied and emulated.
By Peter Sells
The first few names came fairly quickly, but I’ll leave it to your imagination to come up with your own top five or 10. After the big names I had a couple of people who I could not name, but whose accomplishments I felt were relevant, like the guy who invented the automatic sprinkler and fought to get it adopted in North America and Europe (Henry Parmelee, by the way). And I remembered that Fire Engineering magazine had reprinted a landmark article on its fiftieth anniversary a few years back. The article was called Little Drops of Water and it revolutionized fire attack as we now know it. I wanted to include that author on my list, but I did not have his name. This is what I found out: Lloyd Layman was the chief of the Parkersburg Fire Department in West Virginia. His book “Fundamentals of Fire Fighting Tactics” was the standard reference when it was published in 1940. During the Second World War, Layman served as commandant of the US Coast Guard Fire Fighting School, where he had the opportunity to engage in much tactical and technical research into the art and science of the extinguishment of fires. After the war, he expanded his book into two complementary volumes, Fire Fighting Tactics and Attacking and Extinguishing Interior Fires. What follows is a partial list of the legacy of those two books:
- The use of the fog stream for fire attack, to take advantage of the latent heat of evaporation as little drops of water vaporize into steam.
- The concept of the indirect attack.
- The basic division of fire fighting tactics into: rescue; exposures; confinement; extinguishment; overhaul; plus ventilation and salvage, which we know and use today by the acronym RECEO VS (or some similar version).
- The use of static command posts, two-way radios and division of command responsibility at large-scale incidents (32 years before Brunacini’s first text on fire command).
- Tactical worksheets for organizing thoughts and work on the fire ground.
- Operational plans for pre-planning of high-risk or high-value properties.
Needless to say, I was quite impressed with Chief Layman’s work. Especially considering I only knew him as the Little Drops of Water guy.
So, here is the challenge. If you got anything out of this blog entry, if Lloyd Layman’s example impressed you in any way, respond with an example of your own. Who is on your short list of fire service leaders?