History of MFRI

By John W. Hoglund

Since 1930 the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute has provided world class training to emergency services personnel in the state of Maryland and around the world.

The embryonic stage of today's state fire and rescue training and education program came into existence more than 90 years ago. Even at that time in history, Marylanders involved with fire suppression activities were eager for instruction and had a strong desire to learn more about fire fighting skills and the operations of a fire company. The spirit of that period, in relationship to the emergency services, continues through today, growing stronger and expanding immensely as thousands of fire, rescue, and emergency medical personnel seek enrollment and instruction in the many course offerings of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute of the University of Maryland at College Park. The technological changes alone that have occurred in the past sixty-five years and that continue to occur daily have had an immense impact on training and education.

Whether it be in engineering, the petro-chemical industry, transportation, building construction, communications, food processing, our nation's infrastructure, electronics, or health, human services, and development, there is a potential need for the services of highly trained, well equipped fire and rescue service personnel, some of whom require additional credentials such as a license, certification, or successful completion of very special training.

The members of the Maryland State Firemen's Association who assembled in Lanoconing at the state convention in 1929 addressed the identified fire training needs of the day. Great focus was placed upon a new and forthcoming regulation that would require fire inspections of commercial buildings in the Free State. It was considered by certain state officials of the period that the fire service lacked the training to properly carry out the inspection program. A very wise decision was made by the Association to propose and reach out for formalized and standardized instruction in fire suppression through courses that could be developed and offered by the state. It was the seed that germinated and ultimately was to become the state fire and rescue training program for emergency personnel.

Members of the MSFA Fire College Committee that was formed proceeded forward in a deliberate and positive manner. They met with the President of the University of Maryland and the Dean of its Engineering College. A warm and professional relationship was established. In concert with the city officials of Annapolis and Baltimore, representatives of the insurance underwriters and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, the committee developed and provided the University with a basic plan of action for the implementation of a fire training program. Information was also utilized from several other state land grant universities already offering fire courses.

Out of a committee report and a vision projected by some key fire officers at the convention for the creation of a fire training program for its member departments evolved the Fire College, conducted from 1930 to 1937; the Fire Service Extension Department of the College of Engineering in existence from 1937 to 1975; and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute operating from 1975 to the present.

Prepared documents and master plans for training and education developed in concert with user groups have, at intervals throughout the program's existence, lifted the state program to new heights to fulfill the needs of the period. A basic plan in 1966 and another in 1967 gained some degree of assistance. The MSFA Report of the President's Special Committee for the Development of Firefighting and Rescue Education, Training, and Facilities Program - 1971 - 1972, Volume I and Volume II (Ten Year Plan) assisted in establishing, upon acceptance, a manner of support for the extension department, by which the University and state government could expand the program. The document has continued to be updated at five-year intervals. The 1973 Fire Service Extension Department document, The Development of a Regional Training Center Concept for Fire/Rescue Service Education and Training for the State of Maryland, became a benchmark for expansion and in concert with the MSFA Ten Year Plan nurtured joint resolutions in the Maryland General Assembly in 1974 and 1975 calling for the Governor to appoint a special commission to study the fire service of Maryland and to make recommendations on training and education needs. The Building and Renovation Program Requirements for the Fire Service Extension Department plan of November 1973 set forth the remodeling and new construction requirements for the campus Training Academy, that would ultimately be completed in 1990.

By far, one of the most significant events in the history of the state training program occurred on July 1, 1975, when the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute was created as a result of the 1975 Maryland General Assembly enacting SB 785 and the signing the legislation by the Governor. It called for the Director of the Institute to report to the Chancellor of the College Park Campus and charged the new institution with new and diverse responsibilities. The assets of the Fire Service Extension Department of the College of Engineering were transferred to the Institute, and FSE became part of history. The creation of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems in 1976 and Maryland Fire-Rescue Education and Training Commission of the then State Board for Higher Education in 1977 have been important steps in further rendering high quality service to the clients of the emergency services organizations.

With the creation of MFRI, the Maryland legislature mandated that a comprehensive plan be prepared for the establishment, implementation, and operation of regional training centers for the training of fire and rescue personnel. To address this major task, a regional center planning committee for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute was appointed. The committee worked diligently in affiliation with the Academy for Educational Development, Inc. of Washington, D. C. to prepare such a document. On June 1, 1976, a master plan entitled A Plan to Establish and Operate Regional Centers for Training Fire Fighters and Rescue Personnel in the State of Maryland was presented to the Chancellor of the University of Maryland at College Park. Copies of the plan were then transmitted to the Central Administration of the University, the Board of Regents, the Governor, and to all members of the Maryland Senate and House Delegates. The 1982 Emergency Services Education and Training Plan of the Maryland Fire-Rescue Education and Training Commission supported many common goals and objectives of MFRI, as well as setting forth some additional ones.

However, every major constituent group of the Institute requesting further decentralization and receipt of high capital construction cost estimates associated with regionalization brought the Executive Branch to place much of the 1976 master plan on hold. A committee was appointed by the University in 1982 to develop a plan for the development of regional training centers for MFRI, one more basic in nature in regards to facilities and support features than the 1976 plan.

As the fire service personnel of the late twenties and thirties did in pleading for a formalized fire training program and education in fire protection principles; as did those of the fifties, sixties, and seventies call out for more in-station courses and more offerings in the latest techniques; so do today's more sophisticated, trained, and equipped responders desire the necessities. The state training program has had the ability through its tenure to address an emergency need, whether identified internally or externally, and provide instruction, skill training, or another form of assistance in a short turn around period. Fire College, Fire Service Extension Department, and MFRI faculty and staff, both full time and part time, have contributed through the sixty-plus years in advancing the science of fire fighting, fire protection, and emergency medical treatment to the sick and injured. This has not only been done on and off campus, in and out of the classroom and lab, but in conferences, seminars, workshops, colloquials, etc. as well as through papers, published articles, with and through national and international organizations with which they have been affiliated. The contributions of the MSFA Training Committee and the President's Board of Advisors to MFRI are acknowledged in MFRI's march to excellence. Those contributions and achievements in behalf of mankind can only multiply with the caliber of MFRI personnel employed both present and future.

The short courses and special schools offered by FSE and MFRI served the students well and have been contributing factors toward the success and credibility of the overall program. The strong short course calendar supported an extension program that brought the campus to the distant community fire station. The Annual State Firemen's Short Course convened in late August or September from 1930 through 1972. A fine method of delivering instruction, building spirit and camaraderie, the Annual Short Course became a colorful par of Maryland fire service history when the University's fall semester calendar changed, resulting in the dormitory rooms no longer being available. There was also the consideration that the week-long short course was no longer the vehicle to be utilized in the changing and busy world.

The National Fire Service Staff and Command Course, a premier fire officer course in this country, has its roots reaching back to 1960, when University of Maryland personnel assisted in putting on the first one in this country for the federal government. Two courses were offered by the federal staff college and all the others through the years by the University of Maryland.

The growth of special program offerings, instruction, and assistance to the industrial community, the private sector, and government agencies has been phenomenal in the past twelve years. In contract work since World War II, the agency has seen a tremendous increase in requests for its services.

A strong instructor training program has been in existence since 1952, modified and enriched many times, and in keeping with today's NFPA 1041 Standard for Fire Service Instructor Professional Qualifications. MFRI also participates and is a strong supporter of the Maryland fire certification network and the national board.

During the period of 1940 extending into the 1980's FSE and MFRI developed and published training manuals and materials for use in its core programs. Beginning in 1952, the program provided an outstanding manual, free of charge, to the duly enrolled student. The manuals were sold throughout North America. Numerous states adopted the Maryland books for their state firemanship programs. The manual business was terminated when the costs associated with keeping the manual current and the burden placed upon a small teaching faculty led to a change being made, when improved training manuals and books became available on the market from established publishing firms.

The mobile teaching lab concept originated in 1972 and further enriched a unique fire service training program. Maryland, the first to incorporate such a laboratory experience, along with additional instructional personnel in its field delivery system, has seen the concept implemented in many jurisdictions across the United States.

Training and education is one of the most effective means by which Maryland can continue to reduce its tragic loss of life and painful injuries due to fire. The goals set forth in America Burning are supported by the MFRI plan. History and case studies reveal that good education and training are a very large part of the recipe for providing successful emergency responders. With the present resources of the University of Maryland's Fire and Rescue Institute further enhanced by the implementation of recommendations of this plan, the next decade should be a very exciting period in the history of the state fire/rescue training and education program.