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Updated: Sep 10, 2020

I am often asked how I found myself in "this" career. I typically mention my early beginnings in the fire service, but in reality, my love for investigation and engineering started much earlier in my life. I was reminded of that more recently while looking through some photographs from my childhood.

Yes, that's me working the controls of a backhoe at age 6. I grew up working on construction sites with my dad. Summers and holidays were spent learning different trades. I worked beside my father on commercial construction sites in Philadelphia during the day, and then helped him build our family home from the ground up on the nights and weekends. From pouring foundations, to raising walls and setting trusses, to running electrical, HVAC, and plumbing, I've had the opportunity to place my hands on all of it. At the time, I had no idea how invaluable those experiences would be in molding and shaping my future and career as an investigator and an engineer. Not only did I get to learn it, but I got to do it.

At 17 years old, I decided to join the volunteer fire service. Part of our high school graduation requirement was a community service project. While many students chose activities on the recommended list, I chose to run into burning buildings. Definitely not the typical path, but a decision I made with no pondering, perhaps because I had spent most of my life being rough and tumble, sweating and getting dirty, using tools and heavy machinery. The skills, knowledge, and work ethic that my family instilled in me led me to the fire service, and the fire service laid the foundation for everything that followed- an amazing and fulfilling career and a beautiful family.

I fell in love with the fire service and everything it represented, but becoming a career firefighter conflicted with my parents' desire for me to go to college. When I learned about the fire protection engineering program at the University of Maryland, I knew I had found the answer. I wanted to learn more and do more, so I did not stop at a bachelor's degree. A few years after finishing my master's degree in fire protection engineering, I got the itch to pursue my doctoral, but I wanted to expand my skills beyond engineering. Having spent most of my career investigating fire related deaths and injuries, I knew it was time to understand more about the victims, their behavior in fires, and the toxicity of fires. After many arduous years, I completed my PhD in Toxicology and became one of a few individuals in the world with dual-degrees in fire protection engineering and toxicology.

Now decades later, I often reflect on these experiences and decisions and the people who have helped me along the way. I am grateful to be able to take all these skills and feed them into my growing business, FireTox, LLC.

So, how did I find myself in "this" career ?- I guess the simple answer is that I love to analyze, to engineer, to deconstruct, to reconstruct, to investigate, and most importantly, to dig in the dirt!

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

In 1973, the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control published America Burning, a report which introduced various recommendations to reduce the fire problem in the United States. The United States Fire Administration and National Fire Academy were established based upon the recommendations of this report, and federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology (then the National Bureau of Standards) were tasked with supporting fire prevention research initiatives. While the fire protection engineering profession existed well before America Burning was published, the recommendations within the document brought it into the spotlight. With spectacular enhancements in fire detection and suppression technologies, life safety, and code and standards, the fire protection engineering community has made considerable advancements. In 1977, the United States had 3,264,500 fire incidents and 7,395 deaths compared to 1,318,500 incidents and 3,655 deaths in 2018. This equates to a 40% reduction in fire incidents and a 49% reduction in fire deaths over four decades.

Given these substantial decreases, it would seem that we must be doing something right; however, a review of fire incident and death statistics from the last four years, shown in Table 1, suggests that we may be approaching a stagnation point.

Table 1: Fire Incident and Death Statistics- 2015 to 2018

This data suggests that risk mitigation efforts may have reached a plateau, or perhaps, new/continued efforts are achieving de minimis returns. This raises some important questions- Is stagnation acceptable? When can we say we have solved the US fire problem? Is this the best we can do? These questions have not been adequately addressed by the fire protection engineering community, but, as innovators, it would seem we could always do better.

© 2020 FireTox, LLC

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has left most of us quarantined to our homes. With schools closed throughout the U.S., many of us are still working our normal jobs while navigating our newly-appointed roles as home-school educators. In some cases, this may leave our little people with more time to freelance in the home. If your children are like mine, they are curious, uninhibited, tornadoes; safety is not at the forefront of their minds when they make choices. So, it is important that we create safe boundaries, as we transition our homes into schools. Its unlikely that your child's school had a stove sitting in the classroom or candles or lighters. Have you talked to your children about the hazards of these devices. Have you secured matches and lighters, so they are not readily accessible to little hands? When was the last time you tested your fire safety devices? Now is an optimum time to ensure that our homes are safe and that our kids understand the basics of fire safety. Online retailers are still delivering products, so if you need smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, or fire extinguishers- order them, install them, and know how to use them. For the kids, there are numerous resources online to educate them about fire safety. The USFA has activities including downloadable Sesame Street materials for preschool age children. The NFPA has multiple lesson plans including Sparky School House. Practice your home evacuation plan with your kids and make this time a fun and safe learning experience for your family.

© 2020 FireTox, LLC

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