The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) relies on experienced emergency response and preparedness professionals to guide its research and development efforts. The First Responder Resource Group (FRRG) fills that role. An all-volunteer working group, the FRRG helps S&T maintain focus on the top-priority needs of responders in the field. This series highlights several FRRG members, offering a glimpse into their daily responsibilities, as well as their ongoing support of S&T technology development.
“I realized that my desire to do something more for my community had turned into a passion. I jumped in headfirst and became a career firefighter.”
Meet Lt. Dave Saitta, Calumet City, Illinois, firefighter and paramedic. Like many in the field of public safety, his personal story influenced the path of his career — which, believe it or not, initially began in the construction field.
“My father passed away from a pulmonary embolism at home, and I witnessed the response of my local fire department. Although there was nothing that they could do for him, I was very impressed with their heroic efforts,” Saitta said. “A couple years later, wanting to do more beyond the daily grind of my construction job, I recalled how those efforts impressed me and became a volunteer firefighter to give back to my community.”
Saitta began working part-time in 1989 and transitioned to a full-time position in 1993. In the time since, he has continued to pursue opportunities to specialize. For instance, he served as a regional advisor for the South Suburban Hazardous Materials Team and was a HazMat instructor for his department, as well as on the state’s Urban Search and Rescue team, Illinois Task Force One (IL-TF 1).
“My department is typical of a busy suburban fire department – there are two stations, 55 employees and last year we answered nearly 8,000 calls. My primary responsibilities are that of a standard firefighter/paramedic, and due to my hazardous materials specialty skill set, I may be called to respond to a HazMat incident. As a member of the IL-TF 1 HazMat function group, I maintain a state of readiness so, if needed, I can respond and promptly assess an operational environment for safety, as it relates to hazardous materials.”
Saitta has long been enthusiastic to contribute his experiences and knowledge to others looking to make the fire industry more effective, efficient and safe. Working with S&T was a natural next step. “In 2008, I became involved in Illinois’ Preventative Radiological/Nuclear Detection (PRND) first as student, then as an instructor. The head of the PRND program put me in touch with S&T, who was looking for a subject matter expert (SME) for a radiological and nuclear response focus group.” His participation soon led to other efforts with DHS S&T, including an operational field assessment of the Improved Structural Firefighting Glove at the Northeastern Illinois Public Training Academy (NIPSTA) in April 2014.
“I have had the opportunity to work with Lt. Saitta at several DHS focus groups and assessments where he consistently provided thoughtful insights as well as straight forward feedback,” shared Gladys Klemic, an FRG test director at the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory.
“I have been impressed with his depth of knowledge on a broad range of topics: bio-agent detection equipment, radiological/nuclear response and recovery missions, and structural firefighting. His experiences as an arson investigator and a HazMat instructor at several firefighting training academies in Illinois have given him the perspective to consider technology needs for responders. In addition to his expertise, his enthusiasm and motivation to help identify and fill needs of first responders around the country made it clear that we needed him in the FRRG,” she said. During the field assessment, Saitta learned of the FRRG, applied and was accepted.
He attended the June 2014 FRRG Meeting in Washington, D.C. “I was impressed at S&T’s efforts to bring together end-users, researchers, and SMEs to identify capability gaps and their potential solutions. I witnessed firsthand how effective a multi-disciplinary approach was in the development of objectives to guide innovation and adoptability,” he said.
“I was new and not sure what to expect or how to contribute. However, I was immediately accepted, and with little guidance, I began sharing my thoughts. The structure and organization was outstanding and provided all participants with a unity of purpose,” he continued.
He recently attended the May 2015 FRRG Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, and participated in the Threat Monitoring, Data Modeling/Assessment and Responder Deployment working group. “Our group consisted of information system specialists, paramedics, executive officers and firefighters. It was amazing how quickly we gelled into a focused and functional group from a bunch of first responders from different parts of the country with varying experiences, missions and responsibilities,” he stated.
“The technology demonstrations are one of the highlights of the conferences, since the demonstrations represent the result of the previous years’ work. The presentations I attended this year included the Next Generation First Responder, Data Analytics Engine and X-Ray Scanning Rover. I was privileged to be part of the team assessing personal protective equipment and hope to have an opportunity to assess and evaluate [additional FRG technology] in the future.”
When asked whether he would recommend participation in the FRRG to his peers, Saitta responded, “I would – I have enjoyed it. I like that we are working towards solutions. It is impressive to see the involvement of end users and SMEs in the process. Being involved with the FRRG has led me to be more analytical regarding technological capabilities at my fire department, knowing I can bring them to the table and help impact the fire community directly.”
Check back soon for additional FRRG member spotlights. For more information on how to become a member of the FRRG, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.