Firefighter with Heart and Soul

Apr 05, 2024

Michael “Mike” Snyder’s concern for the safety of his fellow human beings runs like a thread through his life: fire protection and guiding clients through decision-making with operational risks represent the great intersection between his private and professional life.

Few things fascinate young children more than the fire department: flashing blue lights, sirens, firefighters in red fire engines bravely facing the raging army of flames – it all makes young eyes light up. Mike Snyder, our colleague from DEKRA North America, felt the same way. And the fascination has not left him. He now has a respectable collection of historical equipment and vehicles and is active in a regional fire department museum. As an expert in fire protection and process safety, he advises clients in various industries in the USA and abroad.
He has been in the fire service continuously since he was 16 years old: “I joined the volunteer service in my hometown of Palmerton, Pennsylvania. That continued, and I kept it up during my chemistry studies at Cornell University (New York). When I moved to Michigan in the mid-1980s to start my career at Dow Chemical, I first looked around for a fire station at which I could volunteer, before I selected an apartment.” There he rose to the rank of chief fire officer over a dedicated volunteer contribution of 31 years.

Improving awareness of risk exposure

Subsequently transferring to Dow Corning, a multinational company specializing in silicon chemistry, he was the global director of the occupational and process safety department and had lots of interesting projects that also took him abroad, for example, to China and South America. “I enjoyed this time very much, as I had the opportunity to spend time in the field with plant managers and employees to help manage process safety and fire protection exposures. It was truly rewarding to have colleagues improve their awareness of risk exposure, and positively react by modifying practices and procedures to reduce them, the 59-year-old recalls. With this background knowledge, he joined DEKRA in 2016 when he retired from Dow Corning. He describes his current job as Vice President for Operational Risk Management as follows: “I provide help in assessing companies that have problems with effectively managing the risk and exposure in their operations.” Often in focus: the proper selection, design, and maintenance of fire protection systems, because explosions and fires are the biggest risks for manufacturing companies.

In the spotlight: Fire protection systems

To serve as a trusted advisor for the clients, Mike also frequently has to be on site with his customers. One of his first assignments at DEKRA was to help a global food and beverage firm identify process safety “blind spots” in their worldwide operations following a catastrophic combustible dust explosion. “This was rewarding because we were able to help the client establish new risk-based procedures and to build the hazard control competencies of their global staff – resulting in systems that provided industry-leading practices that pragmatically managed the organization’s risk exposure,” says Mike.

I provide help in assessing companies that have problems with effectively managing the risk and exposure in their operations.

Mike Snyder, Vice President for Operational Risk Management DEKRA North America

On site with his customers

Following this initial work, Mike’s career at DEKRA has grown into the support for clients
in preventing catastrophic incidents: “The challenge is that most catastrophic events directly result from a mechanical problem. But deeper analysis uncovers that often cultural, leadership, and human performance factors are at the root of the accident. By using the many cultural and human performance support tools that are central to the DEKRA Advisory and Training portfolio, we are able to improve our clients’ organizational reliability and help them become more effective in identifying and responding to early warning signals. This is truly where comprehensive risk management must come from.”

The human factor

But back to Mike’s passion for the fire department, which is still present today. His mission, he says, is “to do everything to keep the history of the fire department alive”. That’s why he collects fire department memorabilia, pumps, and fire engines made of wood and metal. His collection includes three vehicles, including the famous 1920 Model A Ford, and trucks from the 1930s and 1950s.

A passion for collecting

With like-minded people, he is active in the Bay City Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum, whose jewel is the FDNY Mack Super Pumper, which was in service with the New York City Fire Department between 1965 and 1982. “The Super Pumper was the largest pump truck in the world, capable of pumping 8,800 gallons (33,300 liters) per minute of water at 350 psig (24 bar) output pressure. Our museum’s founder found it in a junkyard, transported it to Michigan, and our volunteers now want to restore it,” he says with enthusiasm. Just to get an idea of the size: the pump engine is a diesel locomotive engine from England with 18 cylinders. An oil change of this engine requires 110 gallons (about 416 liters) of oil.

Safely there and back

The 60 pieces of apparatus at the fire museum include an 1854 Rumsey hand pumper, a 1926 REO Speedwagon, as well as a 1922 Ford Model T. Recently, the museum staff attended a fire muster show and parade in neighboring Frankenmuth, Michigan. “But because the Model T has a three-peddle drive system, and the accelerator is located on the column, no one but me agreed to drive it. Even though I practiced on this unique drive system for several days, it was a challenge to continually focus on the task of driving something that is so different from our modern vehicle systems. Fortunately, the practice paid off, and I maneuvered the truck safely there and back.” A foundation of safety with a dash of craziness is just part of it, says Mike with a shrug. “The underlying principles in firefighting science and practical use of risk management principles, as well as the willingness to be hospitable and share experiences, is similar around the world’s firefighters. I feel part of a big community with brothers and sisters everywhere.”