Aramco firefighters join forces with USA colleagues in program designed to help them learn on the job
The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), in concert with Aramco, formed the International Fellowship Program in 2016. The program embeds Saudi firefighters in leading U.S. fire departments for six months to learn the American fire service culture, as well as industry leading best practices. Since its inception, more than 17 cohorts, totaling 132 Aramco firefighters, have successful graduated from the program.
Due to Aramco’s companywide commitment to workplace safety and fire prevention, the firefighters have had minimal operational experience in the Kingdom. And as part of the company’s strategic intent to be the world’s leading integrated energy and chemicals company, the Fire Protection Department (FrPD) has worked diligently to diversify risk and challenged its personnel to gain new leadership skills and to modernize their approach to firefighting.
The cohorts are composed of eight firefighters that are placed in fast paced and diverse high call volume fire departments throughout the U.S. This challenges the cohort’s ability to adapt to a foreign environment while also testing the firefighters’ knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Although they are already National Fire Protection Association certified, Aramco’s firefighters have their skills verified by training academy staff upon arrival to ensure their readiness at the U.S. fire service level of expectation. This includes:
• Moving with a purpose
• Working teams
• Confined space self-extrication
• Self-contained breathing apparatus drills
• Pulling attack lines
• Throwing ground ladders
• Mayday drills
• Radio proficiency
• Communicating in clearly spoken and written English.
After completing two to three weeks of skills verifications, the firefighters are released to the operations division, where they will ride as fourth or fifth on an engine (never as minimum staffing), heavy rescue and/or truck company. They will report to the shift lieutenant or captain, and are expected to imitate (accountability/responsibility) what a firefighter does for the host department.
This verification serves to strengthen their firefighter core competencies, further develop their knowledge, skills and abilities, adopt the leadership principles of the U.S. fire service model (para-military), and understand and implement the culture and values (second family, second home, brotherhood/sisterhood) of the American fire service.
a fuller sense of teamwork
Valerie V. Jackson, Cohort 17 coordinator and assistant chief of support services for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD), said it took teamwork to make the program a success.
“I quickly found out I was not alone in making this fellowship program a success, from the support of the AFRD executive team, training staff, field personnel, to a special IAFC member, John Morris,” Jackson says.
“The IAFC staff’s exemplary customer services, step-by-step, hands-on involvement and professionalism made this process seamless.
AFRD captain Michael McLaughlin has trained some of the cohorts and said he was impressed with the firefighters’ abilities.
“They worked extremely hard. They came to work ready to train and did not complain at all,” McLaughlin says. “The fellowship program reinforced that no matter what fire department we work for, we are all trying to achieve the same goal for our communities — being the best-trained firefighters we can be while saving lives and protecting property.
He says that as the training went on, the firefighters and the training staff started to get to know each other, and the training environment started becoming like any other day at the academy.
“Everybody was training hard, learning, and having a few laughs here and there,” McLaughlin says. “It did not take long to realize that the two of us might come from different cultures, but when it came to the job, the only culture that mattered was that of a firefighter.”
The strenuous workload and the constant demands of the high call volume, coupled with a 24-hour shift schedule, is a significant change for the firefighters who worked either and eight- or 12-hour shift for the FrPD at Aramco. However, they proved to be up to the many challenges and embraced the scheduling demands wholeheartedly.
a career milestone
Hussain Al-Abbas, one of the firefighters, says being a part of the program has been a milestone in his career, as well as his future development.
“I have learned and experienced many things that changed my views on firefighting and the fire service culture as a whole,” Al-Abbas says.
“This program has strengthened my abilities as a firefighter, and I will return home with a lot of knowledge and experience to share with my colleagues back home.”
One challenge for fellows in particular is the “X-factor,” the immeasurable bounds that Aramco firefighters fight to thrive in the program. They must be able to be away from their family and their country for six months; manage the strain on mental and physical strength to keep up with the workload; keep up with the 24-hour schedule; and adapt to the unfamiliarity of a foreign country, its people, and professional and personal customs.
The gains from this program are exponential for all involved. The international relationships formed, sharing of fire service knowledge and best practices across continents and lessons learned are genuinely changing the U.S. and Saudi Arabia’s cultures, both professional, as well as personally.
The future looks even brighter as the program continues to grow and new global relationships are potentially expanding into other exciting, new programs across a variety of continents.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was originally published in the iCHIEFS Magazine Summer 2020 Edition.)
Top Page Photo Caption: Naif Aladal (second from right) was a firefighter in the IAFC International Fellowship Program Cohort 17. Aladal, a fire captain in Aramco’s Fire Protection Department who took part in the program in 2019, said the fellowship in the U.S. was a dream come true.