According to my research on quotations, the phrase “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step” was first uttered by the Chinese philosopher Laozi some 500 years before the beginning of the common era. We are still taking long journeys and continuing to take steps. That has been the theme of this series of columns on fire ratings, fire testing, and standards. In my history books, I have copies of some of the early efforts to create these types of documents. Viewed in a modern context they look simplistic and naïve. Yet when I look on the bookshelf of what is being published and distributed today it is over almost overwhelming.
That is why we’ve chosen to explore the journey the fire marshal must take to be able to understand what all of these tests, standards and ranking systems mean in the real world. If you are in fire prevention, you have no option to claim “I didn’t know.” All of the documents we talked about in this series are available as public knowledge, and there is an expectation that we will utilize them accordingly. In my opinion we’re doing a pretty good job of that, but there’s still room for improvement.
If you are responsible for making decisions to approve or disapprove products and materials going into buildings of the future, you should be extremely familiar with everything we talked about in this series. If you have read the documents you will have added to your vocabulary of how they can be used.
The following is a list of additional websites where you can obtain information that will supplement your body of knowledge on testing and standards. You might want them on your favorites list when you are confronted with a decision during a plan checking process that involves one or more of these fire resistance evaluations.
The next big question I would like to suggest needs to be answered is this: In spite of the fact that you might know what is going on today, how do you remain current?
This is a much more important question than most people acknowledge. In my experience there are a considerable number of people who base their decision making on the past instead of the present. This is not meant as a criticism as much as it is an observation. The accuracy that you possess with regard to specific policies, practices and procedures is not totally dependent on your past training.
General David Hackworth, a Vietnam War hero, once stated that practice does not make perfect. Instead, he suggested that practice makes permanent. The lesson to be learned from this observation is that our body of knowledge has to continually be modified by new information or we are living in the past.
My suggestion about how to remain current may not work for everyone. Nonetheless, I’m comfortable making the suggestion because I have seen it work for a significant number of my peers. I will summarize it in the following fashion:
- Constant curiosity
- Personal networking
- Professional involvement
What I mean by these three activities is fairly simple. Curiosity is a human trait that can be developed. It consists of constantly asking yourself the question: Why? Or, you might be asking the question: Why not? This suggestion is based on the idea that if you question yourself regarding your beliefs and values and constantly compare them to new information you will begin to gain insight – or, as some people might say wisdom!
Personal networking is also an acquired skill set. It involves broadening your circle of friends and acquaintances and simultaneously being prepared to provide information in return. I used to talk a lot about my business card file, but today it’s more about my Outlook file. The broader your horizon is among other professionals, the less likely you will go lacking for an answer to a difficult question. Depending upon how disciplined you are on keeping track of your contacts the more likely you are to know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone. I took that out three rings for a reason. Just imagine if you have 100 names in your Rolodex. If each of them has three friends, you now have contact with 400 people. If that second ring has three friends apiece, you now have the potential of 1,200 contacts. I will bet you there is an answer there somewhere!
I’ve discussed this technique with many individuals before and have received a wide variety of feedback. Among the cynical is the idea that this is hard to maintain. Among the optimists is the idea that it maintains itself. Personal networking is a skill set. The better you get at it the more access you have to others.
Then, my last arena is that of professional involvement. What I’m talking about here is membership and participation. The best test for this is to ask the simple question: how many organizations do you belong to – and how many of them do you participate in? There is a limit to how much you can afford to pay out in dues, so this decision is an important one to consider. I’m going to admit to a certain amount of prejudice because of my personal experiences in dealing with the topic that we based this series on, i.e., testing and standards.
You might want to consider the following. If you could only belong to three organizations that provide information and support for your position as a fire prevention professional, what would they be? I would like to suggest that there are at least three that you need to belong to. They are: a model code group, a standards development group and a fire prevention focus group. I’m going to let you interpret what I mean by these three statements when it comes to making your own choices. It should be obvious that these three groups vary from one geographical area to another. But it should also be obvious that these three types of organizations are the ones that you might need to be able to contact when you need additional information.
Hopefully this series has given you an opportunity to see how with these three techniques, coupled with the information sources that we have provided to you, you will become the resident expert on fire. Good luck. The last in this series is going to be a little quiz of questions that may help you assess your skill sets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ronny J. Coleman is currently the president of Fireforceone. He is a past president of the IAFC and CFAI. Over his lifetime, he has received numerous awards including the AFSA’s 1989 Henry S. Parmelee Award, the 2011 Mason Lankford Award from the Congressional Fire Services Institute, and the Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award from Fire Engineering in 2014. He continues as a contributor to the fire service in many ways.