In February 1966, the Johnson Wax Foundation called 10 of our nation’s fire service leaders to the world famous Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin. The purpose of gathering this notable group of fire service leaders was simple: The Johnson Wax Foundation wanted to produce a useful document that described the “Statement of Critical Issues to The Fire and Emergency Services in the United States.” The mission was accomplished during this meeting in southern Wisconsin. In fact, a fire service tradition and legacy was born during this formative event. The fire service delegates reached consensus, identifying 12 emerging issues that were of national significance, with each statement needing further study, research, and resources to make impactful changes to the delivery of public safety services.
Along with the 12 statements, the Ad Hoc Committee pointed out that the Wingspread Conference should be held every 10 years. If the gathering was annually, the powerful statements would be less effective and repetitive. If the group waited too long, the effect of having a long-range plan to consider would be lost. This conference will be the sixth gathering and will be a great representative of the 50th anniversary of this process.
The Background and History
In the first year, Chief (Ret.) William (Bill) E. Clark from the Fire Department of New York was the committee chair. Clark was serving as the superintendent of training for the State of Wisconsin during the time that Wingspread I was held. There were nine others attendees present. The roll call of folks who made fire service history along with Clark included the following:
- Dr. Donald Favreau from the State University of New York.
- Chief David B. Gratz from Silver Spring, Maryland.
- Chief of Department John T. O’Hagan from the Fire Department of New York.
- Supervisor Keith Royer from Iowa State Fire Training.
- Chief Lester Schick from Davenport, Iowa.
- Chief Henry Smith from Texas A & M University.
- Chief Fire Marshal Curtis Volkhamer from the Chicago (IL) Fire Department.
- Director Robert Byrus from Fire Service Training at the University of Maryland.
- Chief Engineer Keith E. Klinger from the Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department.
The first Wingspread Committee was clear in laying down the charge for the content of the final report from the 1966 meeting. In the section marked “The Responsibility for Wingspread Conference Statements of National Significance to the Fire Problem,” the expressed goal was not to move ahead political agendas, nor to focus on the concerns or issues on behalf of any associations and institutions represented. Instead, it was mutually agreed that all discussions would be objective in character with the focus only on the general welfare of the United States. The report mentions that integrity and dedication to a common purpose prevailed throughout the proceedings and is reflected in the final report. The work effort only enhanced the Wingspread Conference Committee’s contributions to our society. This is the lofty goal that is the underlying principle that each new committee tries to achieve.
The First Statements of Significance produced at Wingspread in 1966 include the following:
- Unprecedented demands are being imposed on the fire service by rapid social and technological change.
- The public is complacent toward the rising trend of life and property by fire.
- There is a serious lack of communication between the public and the fire service.
- Behavior patterns of the public have a direct influence on the fire problem.
- The insurance interest has exerted a strong influence on the organization of the fire service. This dominance seems to be waning. The fire service must provide the leadership in establishing realistic criteria for determining proper levels of fire protection.
- Professional status begins with education.
- The scope, degree, and depth of the educational requirements for efficient functioning of the fire service must be examined.
- Increased mobility at the executive level of the fire service will be important to the achievement of professional status.
- The career development of the fire executive must be systematic and deliberate.
- Governing bodies and municipal administrators generally do not recognize the need for executive development of the fire officer.
- Fire service labor and management, municipal officers, and administrators must join together if professionalism is to become a reality.
- The traditional concept that fire protection is strictly a responsibility of local government must be reexamined.
Move the Clock Ahead
The sixth Wingspread Conference is slated to occur July 18-20, 2016. After a 30-year hiatus, the Committee will meet back at the historic Johnson’s Wax Foundation Campus in Racine, Wisconsin. Chief Alan Brunacini is the modern day chair of this group and will be the presiding officer when the “opening gavel falls.” A total of 40 leaders from all walks of the American fire-rescue service community have been summoned to the shores of Lake Michigan to help forecast and shape the issues of “National Significance to solving the fire problem in the United States,” much like all of the previous attendees have been called to do.
Each person was asked to attend this program based on the region that they are from and the organizations that they represent. However, the spirit of the first gathering will be repeated for Wingspread VI. Everyone is asked to set aside political and personal agendas and to solely focus on the good of the American Fire Service. The body of work that the attendees will produce is to first authenticate or deny the tenants from the report from the last Wingspread Conference (Wingspread V-Atlanta 2006). Next, the conference participants will concentration on the forecast and projections of the pressing issues for the next decade.
The Broad Agenda
The topics that will be discussed during our three days together will include, but will not be limited to, the following items:
- The Future of the Industry.
- Higher Education, Training, and Operational Simulations.
- National and World Economy.
- Homeland Security.
- The “Big Six.”
- Our members.
- Our customers.
- Emergency operations.
- Apparatus and equipment.
- Sustainability (environmental protection).
These three days will be long and action packed. Fire service history will be the direct result of this work effort. Just like the previous five Wingspread Conferences, there will be a final written report produced and distributed. The document will be both paper and electronic formats. One can only speculate that the next conference will be held back on the Foundation’s campus in 2026.
Brunacini said, “The eyes of the fire service will be on Racine next year. Hopefully, the information that is produced will be useful and practical in guiding the way for the fire service over the next decade.”