Fire Service Legend Pens 1st Book

A while ago I wrote a post on who were some of the people who’ve had a positive influence on my fire service career.

Dr. Burt Clark and his wife, Carolyn Smith-Clark.

Dr. Burt Clark and his wife, Carolyn Smith-Clark.

One of those people is

Dr. Burton Clark recently retired from his position on the staff at the National Fire Academy, where among many roles, he was a co-founder and Co-chair for the Executive Fire Officer Program, with Charles “Chuck” Burkell (Also recently retired).

At the most recent Firehouse EXPO in Baltimore, Maryland I had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Clark and chat with him about his newly published book, I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture.

Many of us in the fire service have become familiar with Dr. Clark and his “big thinking” approach to fire service issues. He’s been one of the pioneers on firefighter safety issues like:

  • All personnel being seated and belted whenever the fire apparatus is in motion;
  • Firefighter “Mayday”; and
  • How elements of our “Firefighter DNA”—fast, close, and wet—are key factors in firefighter LODDs and fireground injuries.

See Related: “Gene Therapy” for the Fire Service

But even before those issues, Dr. Clark was a leader—as a young firefighter in the Washington, D.C. fire department who advocated for the installation of smoke detectors to save the lives of civilians and firefighters alike.

20150811_Smoke detector messageDr. Clark’s book is a compilation—an anthology if you will—of his writings on the above topics over the course of the last 40 years. If you’ve missed the opportunity to “tap into” the brilliance of one the premiere fire service leaders of the past several decades, Dr. Clark’s book is a great way to get your “homework” done, albeit a little late.

We all talk a great deal about the influence of our culture on how we operate in the fire service, but few have had the ability to fully grasp the topic and outline it in easy to understand terms as does Dr. Clark. When one reads his book, one can immediately grasp the concept that if we want to really make improvements in firefighter safety—really get rid of LODDs and injuries and “close calls”!—it’s not about better equipment or protective gear or SOGs.

It’s about what goes on “between our ears” for each and every firefighter and officer. It’s about informing and educating the public that we serve about the realities of fires today in the United States and the realities of what their local fire department can and can’t do.

Dr. Clark makes the argument that changing fire service culture requires changing society itself. That means Sprinklers Save Lives Logogetting the average citizen to understand that “fire protection” doesn’t just mean firefighters rushing up in engines and trucks wearing lots of gear. It’s also more importantly about:

  • Having working smoke alarms in every occupied structure;
  • Every family having a home fire escape plan and regularly practicing that plan; and
  • Having residential and commercial sprinklers in every occupied structure.

(Shannon Pieper, “Gene Therapy” for the Fire Service,

I know that I became a better firefighter and officer and now writer because early on I learned who

Burt Clark Book Cover

Dr. Burt Clark was and listened to what he was saying. More importantly, I did everything that I could to put his words into my actions and the actions of those that I worked with.

Congratulations, Dr. Clark, on the roll-out for your book and best wishes for continued success in 2015 and for many years to come!

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,