REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – Fire service professionals from around the Army Materiel Command enterprise gathered here April 19–22 to learn how to implement a new risk assessment program at their installations.
Since 2017, the Department of Defense and the Army Fire and Emergency Services Scope of Services Policy have required emergency services to complete a Community Risk Assessment / Standard of Cover. In 2019 the Army required the implementation of a three-axis model to measure the probability, consequences and impact of emergencies on Army installations. Ernst Piercy, retired Department of Defense fire chief, led four days of lessons and discussions on how fire chiefs around the Army should be using data to quantify risk and the development of emergency response strategies based on that risk assessment.
“I want them to be honest brokers with data,” Piercy said. “Fire departments have limited resources at our disposal. This new risk assessment model will help us optimize our resources in order to mitigate risk to the people and livelihoods on Army installations.”
Piercy spent 36 years working in fire positions around the DOD, spending his last 11 years as fire chief. He worked on many DOD-level projects, including developing risk assessment programs, and was inducted into the National Fire Heritage Center’s Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders in 2021 in recognition of his contributions and distinguished service to the fire and emergency services. He now travels around the world to speak with emergency services about how to implement risk assessment programs based on quantifiable data.
Before the policy change, it was up to each Army installation to determine the risk assessment process and how results were reported to leadership. The new assessment model standardizes identifying, assessing and mitigating risk using data points like the number of sprinklers and proximity to a fire station. The week long course also covered the importance of fire chiefs sharing results of risk assessments to the commander.
“This new risk assessment model will identify and improve the overall effectiveness of emergency response in our community,” Charles Davis, AMC fire protection specialist, said. “Once we address these risks with our Army leadership, then the installation can start addressing the problems to improve the safety of our people.”
AMC had originally planned for Piercy to lead the training for fire chiefs from across the Installation Management Command and Organic Industrial Base in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the in-person training to be delayed for two years. Despite the delay, fire chiefs still brought a lot of questions in addition to many years of experience to the training event.
“The level of discussion in the room is unbelievable,” Piercy said.
One of the attendees, Sean Brewer, has been the fire chief at Blue Grass Army Depot for 15 years. He participated in the training in order to fully grasp the step-by-step risk assessment process and learn how to apply the policy locally at the depot.
“We can’t just make guesses on these risk assessments. We need to use quantifiable measures and standard processes,” Brewer said.
As the most senior fire chief in the room, Brewer valued the training for being an opportunity to convene with his colleagues across the AMC enterprise. He said the discussions brought on by the training helped him have a better grasp on the 3-axis model and also build a network of fire chiefs he can rely on for help.
After the training is complete and the emergency service workers head back to their installations, Piercy hopes that the trainees will be able to better use data to make fact based decisions that improve the safety and quality of life of the Army workforce.
“How do you know what you don’t know, until you look at the data?” Piercy said.