Design Safety: Background
Connections. The best, most injoyable things in the world to be involved with are those that connect some of the most enjoyable things you do. Sad to say, I wasn't very quick to see that in the logical connection between my design interests and my involvement in the emergency services. I had taught building construction courses at the University of Missouri and Western Kentucky University, well before getting involved in the fire service. Neither experience included more than lip-service to issues of fire or any other safety consideration. This was pretty the situation nationally. Looking through the catalogues of architecture programs of the time, I found only three-- UC-Berkeley, Texas A&M and Clemson-- that specified any formal attention to safety issues other than those required by various model codes. Except for work being done by Sivon Reznikoff at Arizona State, regard for safety concerns in interior design was even worse.
For me, the fire service provided the long overdue wake-up call. As a college educator, I had had virtually no instruction on "instruction." The operating belief at universities seemed to be that if you knew something, people could learn from you-- in spite of you (and your limited teaching abilities). Nevertheless, the fire service expected its instructors to also know how to teach. Therefore, four years into my college teaching career, I took a course on "Instructional Methods"-- for firefighters. The instructors were the Assistant Chief of the West Hartford Fire Department ("Jimmy," whose last name I can't recall) and Asstistant Chief Dave Sandford from the Fairfield (CT) Fire Department. Both were terrifically inspiring and later did much to "hook me up" with the Connecticut State Fire School. After one of their classes in Hartford, Dave said something to the effect that with all I knew (or he THOUGHT I should know) about building design and fire, he wanted me to come down and teach some courses on the subject for his troops. I was flattered. I gladly accepted.
Then the reality set in. Embarrassing but true; I was a pretty good designer and a pretty good firefighter, but I knew absolutely nothing-- and I mean NOTHING(!)-- about the relationship between buildings and fire. Dates for a very ambitious course were set. I got busy and learned!! The courses were a success. These and subsequent courses have contributed to some of the most gratifying experiences of my life. The connection was made.