Fire demonstration conducted in the classroom at OSU. - Photo provided by the Fire Protection Publications Archives.

Fire demonstration conducted in the classroom at OSU.

Photo provided by the Fire Protection Publications Archives.

In the opening session of the 1942 National Fire Protection Association annual meeting NFPA Chief Engineer Horatio Bond dubbed Oklahoma State University the “West Point of the Fire Service.” That nickname survives today.

Seventy years later, OSU maintains the most comprehensive collection of fire protection and safety-related programs of any institution, educational or otherwise, in the world. Each of these world-class programs is a recognized leader in its respective field.

Beginning in 1917, the Oklahoma Fireman’s Association, known today as the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, began conducting firefighter training classes during its annual convention. By 1926 these sessions became a four-day fire school.

As the school prospered, it became increasingly difficult for OFA to manage. In 1931, the OFA leadership approached Oklahoma A&M College, known as Oklahoma State University since 1957, to assume running the annual fire school. The college accepted, first assigning it to the Oklahoma State Department of Vocational Education.

In the same year, the first fire training manual emerged from the annual school. John E. Taplin, a former school teacher and fire chief from Blackwell, OK, wrote The Essentials of Firemanship, a small manual that soon gained national recognition.

Also in 1931, Chief Raymond J. Pence set about making the Stillwater Fire Department a model for the nation. A devout believer in firefighter training and education, he served in several state and regional firefighter groups and supported moving fire training schools to Oklahoma A&M. He quickly integrated himself into Stillwater and the college community. His influence in developing fire programs would be major in years to come.

Experts from outside the fire service spoke at the school, many drawn from the insurance business. In 1932 when a speaker was called home unexpectedly, audience member Fred Heisler replaced him. He would also become a major influence on the fire school.

Heisler, who taught public school in Ponca City, OK, came to the trade and industrial education department at Oklahoma A&M in 1932 as an itinerant teacher trainer. He firmly believed that workers, even in unskilled jobs, would perform better if they understood the basics behind the job.

Since fire fighting then was considered unskilled or barely skilled work, Heisler grew interested in the training schools. That he knew nothing about fire fighting mattered little. He knew instinctively how to draw ideas out of others and present them in a logical, understandable manner.

Heisler’s talent became especially useful in preparing training manuals. The firefighters attending the schools returned to train their hometown fire departments. No one knew the firefighter’s job better than a firefighter. Several experienced chiefs met in Stillwater to analyze the business of fire fighting. Because Heisler successfully handled the earlier meeting, he was asked to design a course of study for firefighter training.

In 1933, Oklahoma A&M College reassigned the fire training program to the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology (CEAT). Under Heisler’s leadership, the chiefs discussed all aspects of fire fighting – its tools, techniques and terminology. Together they identified 10 basic fire fighting skills: (1) forcible entry, rope and portable extinguisher practices; (2) ladder practices; (3) hose practices; (4) salvage practices; (5) fire stream practices; (6) fire apparatus practices; (7) ventilation practices; (8) rescue practices; (9) first aid practices; and (10) inspection practices.

Heisler compiled this raw information to produce An Introductory Course, the first of a long series of manuals. This and a second manual on ladder practices issued in the spring of 1935, were simple 8½- by 11-inch, handbound, mimeograph productions sold at cost for 35 cents each.

Establishing a Network

Word spread about the innovations in Oklahoma. Pence developed important contacts across the state, the southwest and the nation via his membership in several fire  organizations. He also distributed a newsletter on fire fighting. His accomplishments often appeared in NFPA’s Volunteer Fireman.

The next step forward came from the fire insurance industry that saw the benefits of better-trained firefighters. In November 1934 an insurance industry trade group called the Western Actuarial Bureau (WAB) sponsored a conference at Kansas City, MO, to showcase the work in Oklahoma. Representatives of four state rating bureaus met to determine how best to publish and distribute the training manuals nationwide. They formed an alliance, the Fire Service Training Association (FSTA), that would validate the training material as a group, and use the Oklahoma organization to distribute the work. By the next meeting a year later, membership had grown to 16 states, roughly the middle third of the United States.

This unified effort had several benefits. The new manuals could be wider in scope than any produced by a single agency. Publication costs could be reduced. Oklahoma A&M agreed to publish the manuals if allowed to retain the copyrights. Oklahoma had already found an experienced and capable writer in Heisler, so Stillwater was the logical headquarters of the new association.

Former Managing Editor Everett Hudiburg recalled what it was like on those hot July days in the mid-1930s when a group of firefighters first began writing how to be a firefighter:

We met in a steaming hot upstairs recreation room of the downtown fire station in Stillwater, OK. ... A heavy haze of fetid cigar and cigarette smoke hung suspended over the heads of a mere dozen delegates. Most of their shirts displayed great stains of sweat as badges of discomfort. Mostly, ties were undone and collars open. Jackets were a “no-no,” displaying an assortment of suspenders and bellies hanging over non-existing belts. This marked the beginning to validate someone’s concept of a draft for a fire service training manual.

These first meetings represented a trend in the fire service. Firefighters wanted to do their jobs better, whether they were career or volunteer. Some were content to continue blindly throwing wet stuff on the red stuff, but others recognized that times were changing.

Motorized apparatus had replaced the horse-drawn pumper. Congested urban areas demanded quicker response times. New chemicals used in building construction and industry, particularly from the petroleum industry, required improved techniques for fire prevention and suppression.

Training schools and short courses began to appear in most states in the 1920s and 1930s, but written descriptions of how to fight fires were still rare. The solution to that came to be known as validation conferences, convened annually for nearly 75 years.

FSTA chose the second full week in July as its annual meeting. As the loosely-organized association had no policies for choosing delegates, attendance was voluntary and at each person’s expense. Only a handful came at first, of course, but veterans of the conferences recruited colleagues who brought still others. Many came year after year, eventually joined by a new generation.

Between the meetings, Heisler compiled information contributed at the conference. He then sent it to area fire chiefs and other experts for their comments. Hudiburg wrote some sections as did Chief Lothar Smith of Edmond, OK. Revised drafts were then presented at the next conference for validation.

Delegates met at Stillwater’s No. 1 (Central) Fire Station until 1938 when the No. 2 (Campus) Fire Station was constructed. After the Student Union was built on the Oklahoma A&M campus, delegates worked in the basement Howdy Room, dodging the supporting posts to see the speaker. Heisler read the draft aloud to the whole group. When anyone objected to a point, discussion and argument followed until the question was resolved. Then the reading continued. New material could be created this way. In time, older manuals were revised.

Seeking Expert Advice

Apparatus demonstration at the campus fire station in 1940. - Photo provided by the Fire Protection Publications Archives.

Apparatus demonstration at the campus fire station in 1940.

Photo provided by the Fire Protection Publications Archives.

As Heisler initially knew little about fire fighting, the material had to come from those who did. From their experience, conference delegates gave expert advice about equipment. R. J. Douglas, head of the Department of Firemanship Training at Oklahoma A&M, also provided information. Formed in 1937, this degree program became known as the School of Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology.

A chemist and high school football coach before he became a volunteer firefighter and fire chief, Douglas was respected as a researcher in fire prevention and control. As head of the first academic program for fire fighting in the United States, he sometimes turned to his students to provide the “how-to’s” of the job by giving them problems to solve using specific equipment. He also liked to take movies of his students in practical exercises.

The manuals soon graduated to a professional level. Illustrations were provided by architecture student Fred Pojezny. After review, the drafts were professionally printed and bound in the red covers that became tradition for IFSTA manuals. Eventually, 10 “red books” covering each of the basic skills identified at the 1933 meetings were published, and many others were added as the need arose.

By 1945, the manuals were an indisputable success. Delegates to the validation conferences took a proprietary interest in them. The WAB encouraged using the manuals to lower a city’s insurance rating. The NFPA publicized them in Volunteer Fireman, announcing each new addition.

Several states adopted the red books as their official training manuals, distributing them under their own cover. The armed forces also began using the manuals, with an order for 2,000 copies in Apri1 1945. Manuals went overseas to military installations and foreign officials. By 1953, an estimated half million copies were in use.

Demand for training material increased. Following the example of Oklahoma A&M many colleges and universities introduced new courses in fire protection. Many World War II veterans enrolled. Most of these new programs avoided the expense of producing their own texts by simply adopting the red books.

In the 1950s, distribution came under new management. CEAT Dean Melvin R. Lohmann, responsible for publishing, believed a new distribution method would stimulate growth. He advanced CEAT funds to set up a new distribution system, placing Douglas in charge.

An addition was built onto the sprinkler laboratory at the Campus Fire Station to house the project. A part-time employee and a student worker were hired to handle the manuals. The part-time employee was Stillwater firefighter Richard Giles who became the Head of Fire Protection Services at OSU in 1960.

The new arrangement worked so well that the CEAT loan was paid off in five years.

Douglas hired Hudiburg in 1952 to serve a three-year apprenticeship as associate editor before Heisler retired in 1955. Hudiburg, who attended all the validation conferences, had written portions of the earlier manuals. When he took over as editor, he was able to maintain continuity.

The manuals remained popular with state and municipal training programs. When two Canadian provinces adopted the red books as their official training materials in 1955, the alliance changed its name to the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA).

By 1959, OSU offered 29 IFSTA manuals and several packages of visual aids. By 1962, all 50 states used the manuals with 28 states officially adopting them.


OSU student firefighters apply their training to a genuine fire. - Photo provided by the Fire Protection Publications Archives.

OSU student firefighters apply their training to a genuine fire.

Photo provided by the Fire Protection Publications Archives.

The various programs continued to grow. Lohmann hired Harold R. Mace, an elementary school principal in Oklahoma City, as its new leader in 1969. FSTA and FPP were split into separate organizations, each with their own manager. Both organizations prospered under his leadership. He retired in 1992 with a prolific list of accomplishments:

  • Serving as the chair of the first NFPA Fire Fighter
  • Professional Qualifications (1001) committee.
  • Increasing the sales of IFSTA and Fire Protection Publications products from $300,000 in 1974 to more than $5 million per year.
  • Increasing the staffing of both operations. There were about 40 full- and part-time employees at the time of Mace’s retirement.
  • Building the current FST Professional Skills Training Center, west of Stillwater.
  • Moving FPP and FST from a Quonset hut on campus to a new building in the campus’ Technology Park in 1976.
  • Creating the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) in 1990.
  • Building the current FPP office building in 1990 and adding a warehouse.
  • Serving as the department head in OSU’s School of Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology program from January 1986 until his retirement. Enrollment increased nearly 300 percent during his tenure.

In 1973, Mace launched a reorganization that transferred administration to Engineering Extension. The department in charge of producing manuals officially became known as Fire Protection Publications FPP).

As more people wished to participate in the IFSTA validation process, changes were needed. In the early 1960s the organization created an advisory committee to plan the validation conference. Members of this committee were self-appointed, but approved by Hudiburg and Cox. Following incorporation as a non profit organization in the early 1970s, an elected executive board and executive director were established.

Also during the 1970s, IFSTA became more active on the national fire service scene. It was part of the first Williamsburg conference in 1970 that created the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations. The Joint Council, as it was known, was made up of 10 groups that wanted to establish a national fire academy and develop professional standards for the fire service. Everett Hudiburg served as one the first chairs of the Joint Council. With the support of the council, the National Fire Academy and the U.S. Fire Administration were created.

The spectacular growth of FPP through the 1980s required the construction of new and larger office facilities. A modern two-story office building, known as the FPP Building, was constructed across the street and immediately west of the warehouse in 1989. Much of the FPP operation remains in that building today.

From its origins of one editor and a secretary shared with FST and the degree program, today FPP employs nearly 80 full-time, part-time and contracted employees. FPP is a fully functional, professional publishing firm. With the exceptions of printing and indexing, FPP performs all of the functions of producing and distributing fire training material from within its own house.

FPP remains an integral outreach part of the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology. CEAT, which has been led by Dean Karl N. Reid since January 1986. Associate Dean David R. Thompson has direct, daily responsibilities for all of the fire programs, including FPP.

With the cooperation of the National Fire Protection Association, the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations formed the National Professional Qualifications Board (NPQB) and developed professional standards for firefighters, fire officers, fire investigators and inspectors, and fire instructors, as well as a certification system. The Joint Council was dissolved in 1989, but IFSTA and FPP still maintain positive working relationships with major fire service organizations such as the National Fallen Fire Fighter’s Foundation (NFFF), the Home Safety Council, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the North American Fire Training Directors (NAFTD), and many more. The NPQB remains an active function and is housed at the NFPA.

Hitting the Ceiling

By 1980, the conference had outgrown the available facilities and resources, forcing important changes. Attendance was limited to an “invitation-only” basis.

With the growing scope of work facing the organization, having all the attendees work on the same book together was no longer feasible. Separate committee were organized for each manual being written or revised. The basic concept of an invitation-only conference and manual-specific committees remains in place today.

Members are sent copies of the chapters well in advance of their meetings and are required to submit their comments in writing prior to the meeting. An FPP editorial staff member, preferably the writer or project manager on that manual, will serve as the staff liaison to the committee.

Members attend the validation conference at their own expense, but they are reimbursed for attendance at interim meetings. All work is now done on computer, rather than the old method of using printed, and then dog-eared, copies of drafts.

When the validation committee completes validation of a manual they make a report. The report documents the process that was followed and provides other information for consideration. This report is then reviewed and acted upon by the Executive Board. A manual is not officially validated until the Board approves this report. The draft is then turned over to FPP staff for final publishing.

As the number of projects continues to grow, the annual validation conference is held on a rotating basis in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, attracting as many as 200 of the world’s leading experts on fire service tactics and training.

The validation conference also serves as the backdrop of the annual International Journal of Fire Service Leadership and Management Research Symposium. The Journal, created by FPP in 2004, is the only refereed, academic journal on fire service leadership and management issues in North America. This journal and symposium provide fire service academics a venue to publish and debate their ideas.

What Makes IFSTA/FPP Unique?

Of its publications, it can certainly be argued that IFSTA’s Essentials of Fire Fighting is the most widely used and influential training text in the history of the North American fire service. Since its first release in 1978, more than 2.5 million copies of this manual have been distributed. Previous editions have been translated from English into French, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Hebrew, German and Japanese.

The release of the 5th edition of Essentials in 2007 also highlighted a new, important partnership for IFSTA and FPP. These organizations partnered with Brady Publishing, a division of Pearson/Prentice-Hall, to develop and market the most comprehensive basic firefighter training materials package ever produced. Brady, a major publisher in the fire world and the largest publisher in the EMS world, provided the ability to produce supplemental resources for the Essentials package, provided valuable assistance in designing the new product, and continues to work with the FPP staff to market and promote Essentials and many other IFSTA materials.

Courses include popular topics such as apparatus operator, instructor, officer, hazardous materials, wildland fire fighting and  mobile water supplies. FPP does not offer these programs directly to students. Rather, it works with fire departments and regional and state training agencies to implement and administer these programs to the constituencies.

Supporting the Mission of OSU

Oklahoma State University is Oklahoma’s flagship, land grant institution. Land grant universities have a three-fold mission: education, research, and outreach or extension, as it was once called. FPP is considered an outreach program of CEAT. The FPP operation is the largest outreach program in CEAT and one of the largest in the entire university system.

Probably no other OSU entity can boast of more direct impact and community presence throughout North America and many other portions of the world then can FPP. IFSTA and FPP manuals and training materials are used by the vast majority of U.S. and Canadian fire departments, as well as U.S. Department of Defense and Canadian Armed Forces fire departments around the world.

The use of these materials has a direct impact on those individuals who use them and the communities they serve.

In recent years, FPP has become a major hub in the university’s research mission. Under the direction of FPP Assistant Director Nancy Trench, FPP has conducted millions of dollars of academic research in recent years. This includes research in public fire education, firefighter safety, educational methods, and leadership and management issues. Recent projects have included:

  • Fire Safety Solutions for People With Disabilities – A smoke alarm installation and education project for people with vision, hearing and mobility disabilities. Now includes How To Be Fire Safe for adults with mild to moderate mental retardation who live independently. (Funded by an assistance to firefighters grant.)
  • Fire Safety for Young Children – A developmentally appropriate classroom curriculum delivered by early childhood educators with key assistance from the local fire department and parents. (Funded by an assistance to firefighters grant.)
  • Volunteer Firefighter Safety Research – A project to determine the effectiveness of self study to increase knowledge and change attitudes related to volunteer firefighter safety and their volunteer fire departments’ safety practices. (Funded by an assistance to firefighters grant.)
  • Traffic Incident Management Systems (TIMS) Technical Research – Researching and developing technical guidance including training systems and programs for fire and emergency services in TIMS for enhanced compliance with the US Department of Transportation Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the Incident Command System. (In cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration and U.S. DOT.)
  • Emergency Vehicle Conspicuity Study – This study looks at the effectiveness of reflective markings used on the sides and rear of emergency vehicles. It compliments other research performed for the U.S. Fire Administration on emergency vehicle lighting. (In cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration and U.S. Department of Justice.)
  • Identifying Leadership and Management Best Practices for Reducing Firefighter Deaths and Injuries – This project is providing a list of good/best practices that result from effective, safety oriented leadership and management practices and focused on the statistical fact that the annual rate of firefighter deaths in fire departments in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales) is only one seventh of the United States rate, when corrected for the number of fires. (In partnership with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Public Entity Risk Institute [PERI])

The cutting edge information and results gleaned from these research projects is provided to the public at no charge. It is also used to ensure that IFSTA and FPP’s training manuals and other materials have the latest, verifiable information and technologies contained in them.