Thursday, July 14, 2016

TEEX & SFFMA: Upholding Fire Service Standards

The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), Emergency Services Training Institute’s (ESTI) main training facility is known as Brayton Fire Training Field (BFTF). Today, this facility is comprised of 296 acres in College Station, Texas, making it the world’s largest, most comprehensive campus for fire responder training in the world. The Brayton Fire Training Field is home of some of the best and most complex training in the country. BFTF’s 132 training props and training stations include a multitude of realistic training props that provide students the means to practice their skills under realistic conditions.

In 1929, the State Firefighters and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas (SFFMA) selected Texas A&M University as the site for a permanent firefighter training school. In 1931, the Texas Legislature authorized the creation of the school by passing House Bill No. 921. This bill authorized the A&M College of Texas (later becoming the Texas A&M University) to create, conduct and maintain the Training School. Though a long-standing relationship between TEEX and the SFFMA, many advancements and accomplishments in the fire service have been achieved. 

This partnership has been instrumental in establishing a baseline of safety and training for thousands of first responders. In FY15, 92,704 students (1,675,485 contact hours) participated in ESTI’s rigorous, hands-on training in Firefighting, Emergency Medical Services, Hazardous Materials, Rescue, Incident Management and other specialized programs both on site and around the world. Staffed by hundreds of experienced instructors, technician and support personnel who represent more than 130 specialty areas, ESTI offers approximately 200 different courses to students from across Texas, the United States, and around the world.

Advances and Benefits

During the past 87 years of TEEX's existence, there have been countless advances in the fire service.  Our main focus continues to be firefighter safety. There has also been a desire to “unify” the fire service.  What is meant by this is people desire training that is quantifiable and measured against existing standards.  Beginning in January 2015, TEEX and the SFFMA formalized a “certification pathway” for SFFMA members based on the NFPA 1001 requirements of Firefighter I & II and NFPA 472 Hazardous Materials Awareness, Operations (PPE & Product Control).  This is a voluntary certification program not meant to penalize, but reward those through the validation of their knowledge and skills.  Through advancements like these, we have moved one step closer to becoming a response community with equal knowledge, capabilities and the passion to succeed.  

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Annual Spanish School.  Participants and Guest Instructors from some 20+ Latin American Countries and US Territories attend training at TEEX’s Brayton Fire Training Field. Dates for this year’s school are July 10-15, 2016.  These participants proudly represent their Countries and the Fire Service as a whole. Three years ago, the Annual Spanish School changed its curriculum to match the SFFMA certification program. This provides an opportunity for SFFMA International Members to quantify their training and become part of this certification process. In addition to the fire-based courses, there are a wide variety of educational opportunities available including: Rescue Training, Hazardous Materials Training, Pump Operations, Marine Fire Fighting, EMS training, Instructor Certification, Incident Command / Incident Management, Incident Safety Officer and other training opportunities.  

To learn more about the Annual Spanish School, please visit the Bomberos pageSFFMA Membership Form.

By Gordon Lohmeyer, Executive Associate Director of the Emergency Services Training Institute at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.        

Friday, June 3, 2016

Oldest, youngest fire academy graduates share love of firefighting and serving others

Separated by space and time, it was the love of firefighting and a desire to serve others that brought together the oldest and youngest graduates of the TEEX Online Recruit Firefighter Academy.

Coming from different countries and different generations, Andrew Makey-Heindl, 18, from Orillia, Ontario, and Neil Summer, 63, from College Station, TX, shared an intense, 21-day hands-on, up-close-and-personal introduction into real-world firefighting and the brotherhood of firefighters during April.

Firefighting has been the goal for Makey-Heindl since he was a youngster, and as an 11th grader, he was able to spend five months at a fire station as part of a school coop program.  He occasionally went on calls with the fire department, and watched the operation from the sidelines. But he couldn’t wait until he could become a firefighter and join the team.  So when he graduated from high school in 2015, he got a job a Home Depot and began researching firefighting academies. TEEX and the Brayton Fire Training Field were at the top of his list. 

“The number of projects and the state-of-the-art facility meant I could get double the hands-on training I would get at home,” he said. 

He will resume his job at Home Depot and begin working as a volunteer firefighter when he returns to Canada.  He plans to begin working toward his EMT-Paramedic certification in the fall.  “My ultimate goal is to work at a fire station in the Greater Toronto Area, but any job in emergency services would be great,” he added.

Summer’s path to the Recruit Firefighter Academy took a bit longer. Originally from South Africa, he left home at 18 to work as a diver in the North Sea, and eventually worked as a geologist in the offshore oil & gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico, where he specialized in deepwater geohazards. He was well-acquainted with TEEX and Brayton Fire Training Field through marine firefighting and offshore survival classes he attended in the 1990s. When he lost his job in the oil & gas industry, he saw an opportunity to pursue his firefighter certification. 

Last fall, he began volunteering at the South Brazos Volunteer Fire Department, but realized he needed to be a certified firefighter to fully participate and serve his community. A Director and Founder of Ecolyse, Inc., Summer says this is one way he can “pay back” his community by working as a volunteer firefighter and also with FEMA in emergency response. 

“I am highly impressed with this organization and the instructors. They cram a lot into 21 days,” Summer said. “I took it seriously and have been exercising every day since October.” 

Thanks to his preparation, he said he had no problem with the physical demands of the “boot camp.”

Both Makey-Heindl and Summer would agree:  No matter your age, you can pursue your dream to do something you love.

NOTE: If you are interested in training to become a certified firefighter, you can learn more about the TEEX Firefighter Recruit Academy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cybersecurity: Be Suspicious, Be Smart, and Thwart the Would-Be Hacker

So you have taken steps to strengthen your passwords and verified you have a secure connection before entering your credit card information on store websites. Now you can relax and feel secure about interacting online, right?

Wrong! There are many other ways your information can be stolen. Even your smart phone can be at risk. Here are some tips to keep you cyber safe year-round.

How can I stay safe?

  • Hackers use the internet to go look for openings or chinks in a network system and take advantage of them. They might use malware, viruses, or Trojan programs buried in emails or a website that a user clicks.
  • Ways it can be spread: You can pick up this malware on a smart phone or app that you have installed. If you sync that phone with a work computer, you just might install that malware on your system’s network. That free or found USB drive may have come from an accidentally or deliberately infected source. 
  • Sometimes employees unwittingly disable anti-virus or malware protection, or pressures from business management can lead to a compromise between network security and efficiency that sets the security bar too low.
Year-Round Cybersecurity Tips

1.  Do look a gift horse in the mouth. Only use accessories and apps from trusted sources and manufacturers. USB thumb drives given out as random freebies are not a good deal. Craigslist sources for “free” recycled drives, motherboards, or other computers parts should be avoided.

Unless you know what you are doing and can safely and completely “scrub” these components, you are better off buying new. Any offer that is too good to be true should be avoided. Whether it’s online phishing or physical Trojan horses, free is usually bad.
2.  Be very wary of emails from people you do not know, and any file with an attachment should be viewed as possibly toxic. When in doubt, don’t open it or click on it. Don’t click on links in emails or open files, especially from someone you don’t know or contact frequently. Even if it is someone you know, but it’s an attachment or video that you weren’t expecting or is uncharacteristic of them to send; stop and email and ask them if they sent you something. Don’t use that email’s “reply to” feature; start a new clean email. Or pick up your phone and call.

3.  Stay away from sketchy or rogue websites. When you see the green “Lock” symbol, you have the best odds of reaching a legitimate safe site.

4.  On your smart phone, only use applications from trusted and secure sites. Don’t allow apps to access information they don't need to know. For example, a calorie-counting app should not need access to your location and should not be able to interact with other apps like Facebook or banking apps. The app should not have more permissions than necessary.

5.  Assume anyone who contacts you via phone, text, or internet and asks for identification, sensitive information, or a password is a crook.

6.  Don’t disable or turn down your firewall. Make sure it is on, connected, and regularly updated. Criminals are always looking for new vulnerabilities and opportunities, so you need to stay current.

7.  Make sure your data is backed up to an external hard drive or a secure cloud-based service. Often this is offered as a free perk for your security system/firewall: use it! Set this to happen automatically so you don't even have to think about it. 

For further information about the training TEEX Cybersecurity offers, visit our webpage, and bookmark Stop.Think.Connect.™ for more safety tips and resources.

Catherine Gibson is a Training Coordinator for the TEEX Cybersecurity Program. A graduate of Texas A&M University, she has been active in adult education and IT security for 16 years.