Article Archive
ESTI Leadership
New director takes charge of Texas fire school
Vol. 26 Fall 2011

Robert Moore, newly appointed director of the Emergency Services Training Institute at Texas A&M University, said he has a passion for both sides of fire fighting – municipal and industrial.

“In my opinion, the first priority of this job is to have a leader who has served both roles and worn both hats,” Moore said.

ESTI, one of the country’s top fire and emergency services training programs, offers more than 130 specialties and trains more than 80,000 firefighters and emergency responders annually. A division of the Texas Engineering Extension Services, ESTI operates the Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX.

In April, Moore was appointed interim director following the retirement of Les Bunte. Before joining TEEX in 1996, he served more than two decades on the Arco Chemical plant fire brigade in Channelview, TX, working his way up to fire chief.

“I was one of 15 Channel Industry Mutual Aid specialists on the Houston Ship Channel,” Moore said. “I served as a specialist for about eight years with CIMA.” The Houston Ship Channel is one of the world’s largest concentrations of refineries and petrochemical plants.

At the same time, he served 15 years with the Channelview Volunteer Fire Department, rising to the rank of fire marshal and assistant chief.

“The Arco ERT responded to a lot of large situations that involved neighboring industry and quite a few large incidents worked by the Channelview VFD as well,” Moore said.

In October 1989, Moore served as a CIMA specialist on scene during the explosions and fire that demolished a chemical complex in nearby Pasadena, TX, responsible for one-third of the world’s polyethylene production. Twenty-three workers were killed and 314 others injured.

“I worked on that for about 36 hours straight,” Moore said. “I kept thinking ‘This will never happen at my plant.’”

Eight months later, an explosion at the Arco Channelview facility killed 17 workers and injured five others. Flammable vapors that built up inside a 900,000 gallon wastewater treatment storage tank under maintenance was blamed for the disaster.

Damage was so extensive it took six months to return the refinery to full operations.

“We learned a lot from Pasadena,” Moore said. “I talked with the chief of the earlier stricken facility quite a bit. We brought the media into our facility, right into the administration building, and set them up with communications equipment. Once it was deemed safe, we took them out to the site. That helped create a good press relationship.”

Moore holds the internationally recognized certified safety professional (CSP) certification, certified fire protection specialist (CFPS) and 20 ProBoard certifications in fire fighting, rescue, hazmat and company officer.

He earned an associate of applied science degree in fire science from Blinn College, where he graduated magna cum laude. He also attended San Jacinto College, where he studied industrial safety, and holds an EMT-Paramedic certificate from Lee College.

Before joining TEEX in 1996, Moore spent a decade as a guest instructor during the annual industrial fire school held every summer. He has served as ESTI associate director since 2007.

“I’ve filled about every role you can imagine,” Moore said.

Brayton Fire Training Field is the largest live-fueled firefighter training facility in the world with 132 training stations and 22 live-fueled fire props. Many of the responders who train at Brayton annually are repeat customers, Moore said.

“We are constantly working on improvements because our customers are always needing new training opportunities and new training props,” Moore said. “Customers who come year after year become tend to become complacent if they only have the same props to use.”

TEEX tries to add a new prop every two years. In keeping with that schedule, the existing process unit prop is slated to be torn down sometime toward the end of 2012 and replaced with a new, innovative, and realistic training prop, Moore said.

“The old unit has served its time,” he said. “We are drawing up plans for the new unit ourselves to be sure it is what industrial people need.”

Needing to update live-fire props illustrates how training has to change with the times, Moore said.

“Youngsters today lose interest if their learning experience doesn’t involve action,” he said. “It’s a challenge to make it exciting and fun as well as informative. We combine classroom sessions with live-fire props and computer labs. It combines all the bells and whistles of new technology to create a great learning experience.”

Once the new process unit is completed, work will turn to developing a 10-year plan governing an additional 159 acres acquired in May by ESTI for addition to the existing 120-acre complex. Just fencing off the additional property will be a million dollar project, Moore said.

As for the existing fire field, the economic downturn has had little effect on the number of students ESTI teaches annually.

“Today, between the middle of September through December, we will have seven to eight companies a week on the field,” Moore said. “In 1996 when I came on staff, we had a big week if we had three companies on the field at the same time. So it’s growing.”

A lot of that increase can be attributed to the new realistic props, but some of the credit should go to the ESTI staff for the excellent customer service they provide, he said.

“It’s not just the challenge of having big fire, but our customer service is important,” Moore said. “I hear it all the time – ‘The young man who was my instructor this week took good care of us and I’d like to have him when we come back.’ That’s the kind of customer response we want.”

ESTI’s separate client bases – municipal and industrial – are coming together in many ways, depending on the industry involved, Moore said. Municipal and volunteer firefighters are often first responders for isolated industrial facilities that can become major emergencies.

“It’s not mandated by OSHA that you have a fire brigade,” Moore said. “But if you don’t, you better have plans for how you will evacuate the facility and rely on the local municipal firefighters to protect your property. That is why it is so important for the industrial facilities to help ensure that the local municipal fire departments are familiar with their facilities, equipment, and processes. Not too many companies are willing to do that.”

Most grant money remains focused on resources for municipal training, he said. Also, leadership in municipal training assures ESTI’s political standing with state legislators.

“We’ve trained a lot of people who would not have received that training without grant money,” Moore said. “But with all that said, this field would not be what it is today without the industrial program.”

As the new director, Moore takes on responsibilities extending far beyond Brayton. TEEX is collaborating with state-owned Qatar Petroleum to build an emergency services training facility in Ras Laffan, Qatar, to serve emergency responders from the Middle East and North Africa.

“We have started construction on a world class training facility there that will be a lot like the facility here,” Moore said. “They have contracted with us to design, staff and operate the facility for them. We’ll have 28 to 35 staff members on the ground doing all the training, localizing and translating.”

TEEX has also signed agreements with officials in Taiwan to conduct fire training at facilities already built there.

At TEEX, no promotion is automatic, Moore said. Being able to say that you have come up through the ranks is a genuine achievement.

“You have responsibilities,” Moore said. “If you carry them out well, you will be eligible for the next opportunity – if you survive. If I leave a legacy at Brayton Fire Field, I want to be remembered as a good boss who could be trusted and took care of his staff’s and customers’ needs.”

 
 

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