Master’s Cohort Members Representing Fire Service Discuss Fire-Related Theses

Fire service professionals have been well represented in Center for Homeland Defense and Security educational programs for decades, coming to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, from fire agencies ranging from the massive FDNY to smaller, local fire departments while contributing their unique perspective to the pursuit of homeland security learning and improvement. 

Never has that been truer than with the CHDS Master’s Program cohort 2301/2302, which features seven members representing the fire service. 

They include Oakland, CA, Fire Department Support Services Deputy Chief Demond Simmons; FDNY Emergency Medical Services Capt. Kyra King; Fairfax County, VA Fire & Rescue Department Battalion Chief Matthew Tamillow; Hayward Fire Department Battalion Chief Ryan Hamre; Berkeley, CA, Fire Department Assistant Chief Levon Thaxton II; Berkeley, CA, Fire Department Program Manager Shanalee Gallagher; and District of Columbia Fire & EMS Fire Prevention Division Sgt. Truc Duc Nguyen, Jr., who also serves as cohort president.

Oakland, CA, Fire Department Support Services Deputy Chief Demond Simmons

While all seven fire service representatives in the cohort have different thesis research topics, firefighter and civilian safety is a common theme across all of them.

Simmons, who suggested writing an article about the fire service-related theses emerging from the cohort, said that as a long-time member of the fire service for nearly three decades and a strong proponent of education, he was “so excited to see fire service members from across the nation who, like myself, value education, and I saw an opportunity to showcase the talents and abilities of the men and women who helped protect our nation.”

CHDS Strategic Communications spoke with a few of those fire service representatives about their fire research-related theses currently in progress. 

Simmons’ own thesis, entitled “Digital Twinning: A Winning Model for Civilian Life Safety in Residential High-Rise Buildings,” which he said explores how the use of proactive/preventive digital twin technology—comprised of hardware and software constantly monitoring important building systems—can be used to compliment Legacy fire protection systems in residential high-rise buildings in an effort to prevent or contain fires with the potential to result in mass casualties.

Simmons said the genesis of his thesis was his fascination with technology while growing up in San Jose, CA, the center of Silicon Valley, and his interest in Smart City technology, which he wrote about during his CHDS introduction course and learned about the concept of digital twins. 

“I kept thinking about current fire protection or legacy fire protection systems that we have in place in buildings all across the world and I thought okay so what’s the connection between the two – how could digital twin technology replace or supersede legacy fire protection systems or how could one compliment the other? So that that was my inspiration to hone my research into digital twin technology and with the assistance of some fine instructors here at [CHDS] and my advisors, looked into digital twin technology fire protection systems and buildings all across the world. As fire service personnel and community advocates, it’s our responsibility to identify, adopt, and adapt technology, and so for me these are initiatives to protect our residents and at the same time protect our firefighters, and that’s a worthwhile effort.”

Simmons said his thesis research work is just one example of how CHDS “challenges us to expand our viewpoints and our systems of thinking” and produces an “expansion of our knowledge base that we can take back to our respective organizations and carry out our day-to-day responsibilities.”

King, whose thesis is entitled “Can You Hear Me Now? Improving Emergency Response Accessibility for the Deaf Community,” focused on the inadequacy of New York City’s management of available emergency preparedness and notification systems for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and how to improve them by addressing the research question: “How can NYC best serve the needs of its deaf community in emergency communications and response?”

Originally, King focused on an ambitious proposal to retrofit nearly 15,000 fire alarm call boxes on city streets to include video screens that would enable the deaf community to sign their emergency messages to first responders. The proposal would have sought to make better use of the call boxes, which cost the city about $8 million a year in upkeep despite only being triggered fewer than 10,000 times a year with nearly 9 out of every 10 calls generated being false alarms.

Years ago, the city tried to get rid of the fire alarm call boxes but was sued by disability advocates who argued the call boxes were an indispensable tool for the deaf community. More recently, the city won a court case that allowed it to consider removing the call boxes once the city implements its Text to 911 program, but King said that was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic and has failed to gain much public recognition. 

FDNY Emergency Medical Services Capt. Kyra King

However, King said her call box retrofit proposal would have been way too expensive and wouldn’t be practical.

At the same time, she said that her thesis research has been “an interesting process” and she’s had “some success getting people to talk to each other” about the issues involved with disabled access to emergency services.

“Originally, the thought with the call boxes was just access to calling 911, but really it’s more than that,” King said. “It’s about change on a small level that would lead to a larger change that will better enable us to be aware and helpful to the overall goal of protecting our communities and helping them protect themselves.”

Tamillow said he was already overseeing an effort in his fire department to implement performance-based management on all fires when he chose his thesis topic entitled “The Fire Went Out, Nobody Got Hurt, But How Did We Do? An App-Driven Approach to Narrowing the Fireground Performance Delta.”

His thesis focuses on “implementing a performance management framework on the fireground to document and measure the performance of firefighters engaged in fire suppression activities.” 

Tamillow noted that there is no local, state, or federal mandate to measure and analyze fireground performance comprehensively despite the critical nature of structure fires, which represent some of the riskiest incidents firefighters encounter. Close-call and after-action reports are only written following significant firefighter injuries or fatalities, he said, and the reports often carry a negative bias, focusing primarily on incidents with poor outcomes.

Fairfax County, VA Fire & Rescue Department Battalion Chief Matthew Tamillow

In response, Tamillow said, his fire department “embarked on a proactive initiative to systematically capture, document, and analyze fireground performance at every working fire. The objective was to create a comprehensive data set that could inform strategy and tactics, identify relevant training topics, and guide equipment purchasing decisions based on actual usage and performance. To facilitate this, we developed a homemade app for an iPad, which allows for real-time data capture on the fireground immediately after the fire is brought under control.”

Tamillow’s thesis research involved “a thorough review of the initial app version and the conduction of several focus groups with end-user subject matter experts. These interactions provided valuable feedback that was used to enhance the app, resulting in two improved versions. Additionally, we integrated other relevant databases into an online dashboard. This dashboard aggregates the collected data, providing a comprehensive view of fireground performance for all personnel to review.”

He said this “marks a significant advancement in how fire departments can approach quality assurance and improvement. By moving beyond the reactive analysis of incidents with negative outcomes, we can adopt a more proactive stance that enhances overall firefighter safety and effectiveness. The insights gained from this data-driven approach are expected to drive continuous improvement in fireground operations, ultimately leading to better outcomes for both firefighters and the communities they serve.”

He said he would eventually like to see a “quality assurance and quality analysis on the fire ground” incorporated into the National Fire Protection Association’s consensus standards, as well as third-party certification and best practices.

Hayward Fire Department Battalion Chief Ryan Hamre

Tamillow said he first learned about CHDS more than a decade ago but felt at the time he wasn’t yet qualified to apply. Over the next ten years, he said he gained valuable experience and advanced in rank and responsibility, eventually applying and being accepted into the program.

He said he encourages anyone seeking a “top-tier educational experience and the opportunity to build deep connections and relationships with leaders across the homeland security enterprise” to apply to the CHDS Master’s Program, noting the extensive support from faculty, program coordinators, and advisors dedicated to helping all students excel.

Hamre’s thesis entitled “Stress as an Enhancement: A Mindset to Improve Firefighter Performance” involves research evaluating fire service training and education for stress and human performance from a review of the latest research on stress mindset, appraisal, and mental skills training to case studies of the U.S. Army’s Ready and Resilient and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Psychological Services programs. 

He said lessons learned from the research are then applied to existing training systems employed in the fire service to prepare firefighters to handle stress before an incident rather than focusing entirely on treating post-traumatic stress afterward.

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

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