In early 1995, Wackenhut Services Inc. (WSI) President and CEO James L. Long III took a look at WSI's Fire and Emergency Services organization. As a result of that review of WSI's Fire and Emergency Services organization he developed a vision of what he wanted his fire and emergency services group to look like and function. His vision was to unify all the fire and emergency services organizations managed by WSI under a single set of standard operating procedures, rules, regulations and training so that every fire department would be interchangeable with the next. To create an environment that would foster his vision for WSI's Fire and Emergency Services program Mr. Long took on the challenge of finding a fire and emergency services professional who had the knowledge, experience and capability to create his vision. That person was Christopher Frasier, a fire and emergency services veteran who at that time had over thirty years of emergency services experience with many of those years working in the industrial emergency services sector.
"When I first came into the organization, of course, I had to go out and see everything that we had out in the field, meet all of WSI's Fire and emergency Services professionals and clearly identify the challenges to creating WSI's Fire and Emergency Services Organization of the future. After visiting all of the departments and spending a great amount of time listening I returned to my office to begin the task of writing the documents that have now evolved into WSI's Fire and Emergency Services Mission and Capability Statement, WSI's Fire and Emergency Services Standard Operating Procedures and Standard Operating Guidelines and implement what is now our system-wide Performance Based Training and Certification Program which now results in the issue of NFPA Pro-Board Fire Service Certifications," said Chris Frasier, WSI Safety, Fire & Emergency Services director.
Contained within the mission and capabilities statement, procedures, guidelines and integrated training program are the foundation for how every WSI Fire and Emergency Services Department operates, he said.
"All WSI Fire Departments wear the same type of uniform, wear the same uniform badges and operate following all of the same procedures and operational guidelines," Frasier said. "They all train under the same performance-based training and certification program, which has been enhanced recently through our partnership with Texas A&M. WSI is the only private sector fire and emergency services provider that has the capability of conducting in-house training that results in the issue of NFPA Pro-Board fire service certifications."
This addition to the performance based training and certification program has received a great response from personnel as it allows them to train and educate themselves relative to their vision of where they want to be in the fire and emergency services arena. It allows WSI to develop leaders and create great up-word mobility for personnel.
WSI's approach to the delivery of emergency services has allowed it to maintain a strong cadre of fully-trained, motivated and well-equipped emergency response personnel who by virtue of WSI's approach to customer support can quickly intercede and manage a wide variety of incidents, including the provision of special response and rescue teams that can provide deployable resources to insure the safety of customers and personnel. To ensure that it meets all specific requirements at our facilities WSI will tailor its procedures and training programs and provides required apparatus, equipment and personnel to meet all of its customers' needs.
As an example of meeting the customer's special requirements, WSI's partnership with Texas A&M's Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) allowed the company to quickly meet requirements for Department of Defense certification requirements at the outset of hostilities in Iraq. As a result to provide fully- certified personnel, WSI was given the contract to deploy over 800 DOD certified firefighters to protect U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq. This task required building 27 fire departments, which resulted in the requirement to staff 47 fire stations. This task has been identified by the U.S. military as the single largest civilian fire and emergency mobilization in history and has had significant impacts on the ability of troops in Iraq to meet mission requirements. As a result of its operations in Iraq, WSI Fire and Emergency Services personnel have received numerous awards including recognition by the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. Most recently, WSI's Safety and Health Program was presented with the Brunacini Safety Leadership Award by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
"Currently WSI Fire and Emergency Services personnel in Iraq respond to emergencies within the confines of the protected U.S. military bases," Frasier said. "A number of these bases have extremely vigorous air activities, so we do aircraft rescue as well as structural fire response. WSI also has an extremely vigorous fire prevention program in Iraq and, on average within our entire fire organization in Iraq, conduct anywhere from 45,000 to 50,000 fire inspections each month."
In one instance, WSI was asked to do an acceptance inspection on a prisoner retention area. When the results of that inspection were given to the commanding general in charge of the facility, he choose to not populate the facility.
"When they turned the power on, it caught fire and burned to the ground," Frasier said. "Thankfully, it was empty."
WSI Fire and Emergency Services personnel conduct fire extinguisher and fire prevention training, acceptance testing on all fire systems installed, the test, inspection and maintenance of fire protection systems, the inspection and testing of fire alarm and detection systems, the development of pre-fire plans and threat assessments, the development of emergency response guidelines, safety inspections including the issue of hot work, confined space entry and excavation permits, response to all types of emergencies, including hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction and EMS response.
WSI responders have adapted to special circumstances including operating under hostile conditions in Iraq, dealing with the production of nitroglycerine and TNT, responding to hurricane events and protecting the nation's astronauts, Frasier said.
"One big problem in Iraq is that water is scarce," Frasier said. "None of the bases have fire hydrant systems, so all the water for fires has to be brought by tanker trucks. We operate a number of units ranging from regular 2,000-gallon fire service pumper tankers to 8,000-gallon tractor-trailer rigs, and many of the WSI base fire departments have set up 5,000-gallon water supply ponds for emergency water."
Fire fighting in Iraq is contingent on the ability to manage water. Sometimes, there simply is not enough to do the job.
"There have been many cases where we have had a fuel storage area hit, and because of the sheer size of the fire, there is no way to put it out," Frasier said. "Water and foam aree used to protect exposures until the fuel burns itself out. That's just the nature of the operation."
Tent fires are another area where discretion is the better part of valor.
"Tents are susceptible to fire just by the nature of their construction, the heat and their constant use," Frasier said. "If you are fighting a tent fire, basically you give up a certain number of tents so you can set your fire line and cut the fire off. Otherwise, you would be playing catch up all day long."
One tool that has been successful in fighting tent fires is the use of 3,000 gallon ARFF units, which can deploy a massive water strike to stop a fire in its tracks and allow personnel to suppress the fire.
Foam systems have proven to be difficult to maintain in the desert environment.
"It's so darn hot in the summer that if you don't immediately flush and clean your foam systems after use they clog up," Frasier said. "In the summer a typical day might be 140 degrees F. When we ordered the pumpers, we didn't order foam systems. Relative to our pumpers, we do everything with cans of foam and eductors because from a maintenance perspective, it is much easier to take care of."
Some requests from the U.S. Army go beyond standard emergency response. WSI was asked to develop a portable CAFS system that soldiers could carry in their Hummers to suppress fires in the vehicles.
WSI was also asked to develop a method to rapidly extract injured personnel from guard towers, Frasier said. This resulted in a stretcher device that can lower from the back of a guard tower at a pre-determined rate of descent fast enough that the injured cannot be targeted but slow enough not to injure them further when they reach the ground.
Today, WSI's total fire service organization includes more than 1,400 personnel, of which more than 800 are committed to services in Iraq.
"Thanks to the credibility of our operations, our management, our people and the corporation, TEEX was able to move forward in its current certification partnership and entrust WSI with a TEEX NFPA Pro-Board certification program, which covers all WSI Fire and Emergency Services operation's worldwide," Frasier said. "This addition to our current performance based training and certification program was given to WSI based on trust and its professional approach to the delivery of services and training."
Before 1995, WSI provided fire services for many industrial operations across the country. Unfortunately, these individual operations were prone to "wandering" a great deal, Frasier said.
"There was really no fixed focal point relative to how the departments would operate safety programs, training, incident management and personnel accountability," he said. "All those things are very important because your success is really born in how few injuries you have a year, how responsive you are to your customer and employees and how fiscally responsible you are with your customer's money."
In the U.S., WSI operates nine fire departments with about 600 personnel. WSI currently provides fire protection and emergency services at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, TN; the Redford Army Ammunition Plant in Blacksburg, TN; the Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, LA, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA; the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA; the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville; the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, FL; and CIBA Chemicals in McIntosh, AL.
In September, WSI won the contract to provide fire protection, fire prevention, emergency response services, emergency management services, 911 dispatch center services and security and law enforcement services at the DOE Hanford site located in Richland, WA. All of these vital services are consolidated under a single contractor."
Although WSI is in a position to encourage increased efficiencies in training and other areas, it is bound by existing labor agreements so that salaries and benefits remain intact, he said.
"WSI places great emphasis on treating its employees well and works with existing unions to make sure that their people aren't impacted," he said.
WSI has taken a position that it will not be a low bid provider of emergency services, which often means that its approach to the delivery of these important services puts it out of contention for contracts up for bid.
"From an operational perspective, we want to be seen as the best of the best in providing these types of services," Frasier said. "Not that a fire department operated as a low-budget operation cannot be good, but we have found that to meet the requirements of our various contracts, we have to attract good people, provide required training and most importantly be able to keep them, which is the direct reason for our continued success."
While companies come and go in the industrial fire protection business, WSI has remained a constant in the field.
"Part of our success is that once we have a contract, it is very rare that we lose them," Frasier said. "We retain good people and take care of them. We provide them with the stimulus that keeps them interested and drives them to get the education and certification necessary to advance in the organization, not just the facility they work at."
All of this promotes better leaders for WSI to draw from in the future, he said.
An example of WSI's commitment to safety is the International Association of Fire Chiefs' annual Fire and EMS Safety Stand Down that to prepares firefighters and emergency medical technicians to respond, mitigate and return home safely from an emergency as well as implement the use of constant safety practices to ensure that employees come to work safely and go home from work unharmed. WSI had taken that one step further.
"We do it every quarter," Frasier said. "Every single one of our fire departments has a safety stand down every quarter, a day that is dedicated to safety education, safety training and working on better safety solutions to our operations."