Emergence Alumnus Making a Difference: Coordinated fire-as-a-weapon training with fire, police responders

City of Winston-Salem Fire Engineer and CHDS Emergence Alum Christopher Dallalis

Recognizing the prevalence of terrorist publications such as Rumiyah and Inspire actively encouraging and offering instruction on how to use fire as a weapon, Christopher Dallalis, a fire engineer for the city of Winston-Salem, NC, decided his agency personnel needed to train regularly with the local police department’s special operations division to prepare for just such a possibility. 

So as part of his Center for Homeland Defense and Security Emergence program change initiative entitled “AS/HER Fire Company: Fire as a Weapon Preparedness,” Dallalis (Emergence cohort 2002) proposed creating what he calls a “specialty (fire) company that is responsible for integrating with law enforcement during a universal command situation and be able to modify and adapt firefighting strategy and tactics to provide protection to law enforcement, civilians, and other firefighters during fire as a weapon incidents.” 

In his Emergence change initiative proposal, Dallalis noted previous international and local incidents had shown that “the city of Winston-Salem is grossly underprepared to respond to such incidents,” adding that the city is “not alone in this predicament,” and that “thousands of fire departments across the country and world are not prepared to respond to incidents where the realms of law enforcement and fire suppression converge into one of the most challenging incidents an incident commander can face.” 

To make his proposal work, Dallalis decided to have the specialty company be part of the existing hazardous materials team and use hazmat skill sets such as sampling, air monitoring, and detection, as well as PPE selection, to be “able to bridge a terrorist CBRNE event with law enforcement.”  

In addition, the company would be able to provide fire suppression and medical care to mitigate any hazards within that area. Poised to present his change initiative proposal to his department leadership earlier this year, Dallalis said there was an incident that “fell perfectly into this category.”

The incident involved an armed man who holed up inside his house when police responded and then set a fire in his home, drawing a combined fire and SWAT response that Dallalis said could have been better coordinated. Dallalis said first responder crews had to improvise their response because they had not yet undergone training but “did a good job and all responders went home safe.” 

Dallalis said he was able to use the incident to “really stress to my leadership” that his Emergence change initiative proposal is a “needed focus of training and specialty as a new NFPA 3000 Active Shooter/Hostile Events Standard,” which requires firefighters to undergo specialty training to enter a “hot zone” with law enforcement at such events. Tactics that could have been used with the proposed training would have been safer for firefighters and law enforcement, he argued. 

According to Dallalis, his department leadership was “exceptionally open” to his change initiative proposal and his fire chief tasked the training division to begin coordinating to begin building the team and develop the details. He said the city police department special operations command was also “extremely receptive” after being briefed, and wanted to know how quickly the proposal could be implemented. 

Dallalis credited his change initiative proposal’s success to what he learned in the CHDS Emergence program, specifically noting faculty Sara Kay and David O’Keeffe, as well as the coursework, speakers, and fellow cohort members.

He added that he was able to speak with CHDS alumni involved in similar projects and others who had responded to real-life incidents, including a tragic fire as a weapon incident that claimed the lives of two police officers in Honolulu, HI.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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