At face value, firefighting is a profession that seems relatively straightforward when expressed outloud. Our mission is to “fight fires”, “put the wet stuff on the red stuff”, and to “go home with the same number of firefighters that we started our tour with”. Although we attempt to streamline our duties in order to make our jobs more self-evident, firefighting is far from clean and uncomplicated. It’s a trade that requires extreme expertise in order to keep our members safe and to fulfill our mission “so others may live”. With this said, nuance presents itself every step of the way. How much nozzle reaction is produced by each nozzle/tip? What’s the correct angle of insertion when constructing raker shores? How much of a safety factor is built into life safety rope? Firefighting may appear rather simple at face value but we all know this is a far cry from the truth once joining the brotherhood.
In order to keep our firefighters safe from peril, there is one area that requires extensive focus, time, and study. That area is building construction. I remember being a new firefighter and one of my Lieutenant’s at the time telling me, “In this job everything matters, but out of everything you need to know, building construction is one of the most important. It could be the one thing that saves your life one day.” Those words were extraordinarily impressionable at the time and to this day hold remarkably close. Building construction isn’t just something we must learn to pass a test, but an art that requires years of dedication to master.
Chief Greg Havel was a man who gave an incredible amount of his life to this cause. He was a subject matter expert in everything building construction. The overall topic can at times be deliberate and detailed but none the less, Chief Havel forged through and made it his lifework. He truly understood just how paramount building construction was to the safety of the fire service. He gave everything he had to ensure firefighters were as protected as humanly possible. With his Fire Engineering series entitled, “Construction Concerns”, he took us on a journey each month deep into the subjects most wouldn’t have the knowledge or patience to compose. He wrote and educated us about things that were within plain sight but few would even recognize.
A while back, a couple of my fellow brother firefighters and I took our family’s to the “Great Wolf Lodge” in Massachusetts. A few weeks prior, I had watched Chief Havel’s FDIC presentation on “Cross Laminated Timber Construction”. Before watching this indepth and strikingly informative class, I honestly didn’t know much about Cross Laminated Timbers, let alone attempting to identify them out in the field. While walking up and down the stairs of this massive indoor water park, I happened to notice gigantic exposed timbers that were part of the roofing assembly. These timbers appeared to have many individual pieces of solid lumber that had been glued together. It was with Chief Havel’s mission of promoting building construction I was able to know what I was looking at and the positives/dangers associated with it. Without his presentation, I would have proceeded aimlessly with my boys up and down the water slides without ever bettering myself. After getting home I felt compelled to contact Chief Havel, letting him know how important and far reaching his work was. I know this is just one small example of the countless experiences impacting firefighters across the country throughout his years of service. He wrote and taught about it all. Gypsum roofs, reinforced concrete, steel rebar, and even galvanized corrosion. Basically if it was part of a structure, Chief Havel was all in.
It’s nothing new in todays fire service that we are presented with an ever growing number of members who are not acutely proficient with identifying building construction. They may bring other things to the table, such as a keener ability with technology, but as far as building construction, it’s something that needs a little more attention. Chief Havel leaves behind a cache of valuables when it comes to the art of building construction. We as officers and senior firefighters should tap into what he spent his life’s work on. We should use his work to help foster a better understanding of building construction for the next generation of firefighters to come. Everyone always says “As long as you leave the fire service better than how you found it, that’s how you know you did your job”. Chief, we are a better and safer service due to your calling and cultivating a sharper awareness of building construction. There’s no question you left the fire service better than how you found it and for that we say thank you Chief Havel, thank you!!!
Adam J. Hansen