What is the International Fellowship Program (IFP)?
The IFP places international firefighters in leading U.S. fire departments for six months to learn best practices and internalize the U.S. fire service culture. This initial version of the program is sponsored by the Saudi Aramco Oil Company who dispatches 40 members of its Fire Protection Department to the U.S. per year, in five cohorts (eight firefighters at a time).
What is Saudi Aramco?
Saudi Aramco is a Saudi Arabian national petroleum and natural gas company based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. It’s considered one of the world’s largest companies.
Why was the IFP created?
In August 2015, a residential complex (housing Saudi Aramco workers) in city of Khobar caught on fire. The fire left 11 people dead and at least 200 injured. On the same day, the new manager of the Saudi Aramco Fire Protection Department assumed his duties. He realized that his department needed more real-life experiences to hone their decision-making under pressure. Given Saudi Aramco’s strong prevention/safety culture, their firefighters have few opportunities to run real fire emergency calls. Saudi Aramco realized it needed to look abroad for help. Since Saudi Aramco was formerly an American company, its entire operational culture (as well as apparatus) is based on the U.S. fire service. Therefore, it made sense that they would turn to the International Association of Fire Chiefs to help embed their firefighters in U.S. fire departments to gain crucial, hands-on experience.
What are the Saudi Aramco firefighters here to do?
The Saudi Aramco firefighters are here to increase their operational experience by running calls. They will be riding fourth on apparatus for five months but will not be counted towards our minimum staffing.
What fire departments have taken part in the IFP to date?
- City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (Calif.)
- Oklahoma City Fire Department (Okla.)
- Rogers Fire Department (Ark.)
- Prince George’s County Fire/EMS (Md.)
- Dekalb County Fire Rescue (Ga.)
- Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (Fla.)
- Columbus Division of Fire (Ohio)
What type of experience and/or training do the firefighters have?
Saudi Aramco’s Fire Protection Department is an all-hazards fire department that protects industrial sites as well as Saudi Aramco compounds/communities. They are all Pro Board and IFSAC certified firefighters. The Saudi Aramco firefighters are trained to the first-responder level but are not EMTs. All EMS is outsourced to Johns Hopkins who runs the hospital systems at the compounds.
What can the Saudi Aramco firefighters do?
The Saudi Aramco firefighters’ skill-level is evaluated during a month-long training period with our department’s training division. Only those who demonstrate their competency during this time will be released to the stations. The SA firefighters may do anything (including interior firefighting) that the commanding officer feels comfortable with. Because they are on a J-1 visa, the SA firefighters may not perform patient care. They may, however, assist crews during a medical response.
What is this program costing our fire department?
The International Fellowship Program picks up the costs for all PPE, equipment, and instructor-time needed for the SA firefighters. This program is cost-neutral to the department.
What is the benefit to me personally, and to the department?
The largest benefit to our department is the opportunity to test and challenge ourselves.
As Fire Chief Fullum says: “We embrace the challenges and opportunities of providing those services in a fast-paced and complex environment. Through training, innovation, and a data-driven decision-making lens, we are able to remain in a constant state of improvement.”
This is a unique program: we are working with a far different culture than we typically do when we have international ride-alongs or visitors. This will test you. This program also offers professional development opportunities for those who choose to get actively involved: formal leadership classes (such as the NWCG L-380 “At the Tip of the Spear”) and networking with the other departments taking part in the program. The tangible benefits of this program are relational.
What can they do on a medical call?
The work visas that our fellowship members are under does not allow them to medically treat someone. Therefore, they are only allowed to perform tasks on a medical scene that do not require medical training and/or certification. But they can assist with carrying equipment, loading patients, etc.
Do they get treated like probationary firefighters on calls and around the station?
These firefighters are guests in our department and should be treated as such. Many of these fellowship firefighters have many years of experience within the fire service; some are officers within their own departments. We shouldn’t be treating them like rookie firefighters fresh out of recruit school (no winding the Federal Q). However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t expected to work alongside our personnel. They are expected to contribute around the station and on scene like all other firefighters. They are here to experience our station life and learn how we fight fire.
On fire scenes, we should look out for them while they gain the experience to operate at our levels, just like we would any new firefighter within our department.