Doctoral Learner From South Carolina Turns Tragedy Into Opportunity
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
The memory of June 18, 2007, is still fresh for David Griffin, driving him on and bringing him to Phoenix this week for his residency with the College of Doctoral Studies.
On that date, nine firefighters in Charleston, S.C., perished while battling a blaze in a furniture warehouse. The tragedy remains the country’s largest line-of-duty loss since 9/11, and it received national media coverage at the time.
Griffin, then only two years into his tenure with the city’s fire department, was shaken to the core.
“This happened, and I had to do something about it,” he says. “I couldn’t run away. You don’t honor those guys by quitting. Something like this makes you live your life differently.”
Griffin, 32, a native of Charleston and a graduate of The Citadel, threw himself into mixed martial arts for a time. But he felt the need to make a lasting impact in the tragedy’s wake and carefully mapped out a plan to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees online from GCU.
A master’s in executive fire service leadership took him about 2½ years after starting in January 2008. He expects to be done in May with work on a doctorate in organizational leadership and development, which will include a qualitative case study of the fire’s aftermath.
“Our training and education weren’t up to standards,” Griffin says. “We were good at residential fires but not at commercial…. Our guys got in there and the roof collapsed, and we didn’t know how many we had lost. That day, I saw things that didn’t add up to where we should have been in terms of best practices.”
He compares the situation to that of a football team successfully using the same playbook for 30 years before taking a sound beating — and being forced to change. He took it upon himself to become a coach for Charleston’s firefighters, spearheading a strong commitment by the city to improved training methods.
In the past, he says, the department of 300 would send perhaps a dozen firefighters to a structural blaze; now that number is between 30 and 50. The department’s budget of $22 million is about five times what it was back in 2007, he says, and an emphasis on education is now incorporated into career-advancement policies.
Griffin says he chose GCU for its regional accreditation and for the academic rigor he was seeking. “The point is to learn something,” he says.
Even now, he sometimes finds it difficult to watch the news or speak in front of a group about the tragedy. His unit was the first on the scene that day.
“It still gets me,” says Griffin, whose goal is to become a fire chief. “I can be watching the news and something will come on about a line-of-duty death, and my eyes will water up. I can’t fight it.
“Today, it would be a totally different ballgame (in Charleston). We’re strategically so much smarter. What we’ve done is unbelievable, and the growth we’ve made is exciting.”
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].