Disaster Management and the Fire Department

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Course description

Prerequisite: None
This course will not teach you how to manage disasters. As with Fire Suppression Management, where you learn how to plan for fire suppression, not engage in incident command, so in Disaster Management and the Fire Department you learn why, not how, disaster management should be practiced. In Fire Suppression Management most of the planning was informed by engineering studies that verge on operations research. Typically the variables to be measured were fairly clear: time, number of personnel, amount of water, initial attack fire flow, and so on. The relationships among these variables were assessed in relation to the time-temperature curve, and the available resources, (mostly money and/or volunteers), of the fire department. In Disaster Management and the Fire Department however, planning had not been informed by any research, and only more recently is this planning beginning to be informed by social science research. Most of this research is based on case studies of disasters. The variables measured are much less clear: panic, dissemination of generalized beliefs, convergence of agencies, inter-organizational conflict, and so on. Definitions of success are less clear except that some disasters seem to be managed better than others. Nevertheless, unlike the underlying research about fire suppression, the disaster management literature is huge. Well over 1000 studies have been conducted. Disaster Management and the Fire Department will introduce merely a handful of these studies; the bibliography and the web references contained at the end of the course manual will present more possibilities.

Should you feel that your disaster management skill, as opposed to knowledge, is inadequate, we recommend that you attend any of the various programs offered by the Emergency Measures Organization in your province. The disaster exercises will enhance your skills further. Moreover, we strongly recommend that your community conduct these exercises routinely. Unit One addresses this matter more intensively.

Course author

John Benoit, Ph.D.
John Benoit has been an applied sociologist, employing social science research to fire service administration. He obtained his PhD in sociology from the Johns Hopkins University in 1975, writing a dissertation on the effect of information flow on risk taking. He had worked at Dalhousie for 24 years, spending the last 20 as Director, Fire Management Education. During this time he wrote and co-wrote several of the courses, editing others. His principal areas of expertise include fire department-municipal government relations, the volunteer fire service, some aspects of personnel management, and theoretical perspectives on emergency management. In addition to course development, he has conducted research and published in the areas of volunteer fire administration, and disaster management. John recently retired and is now examining the effect of rural volunteer fire departments on the local community, and the impact of courageous experience and social capital on local economic development.