Donald J. Giffels, civil engineer and president of a large engineering consulting firm,
was puzzled by the design of a government facility to train firefighters dealing with fire
crashes of airplanes. His firm was under contract to do the civil engineering work for
installing equipment at the facility. Because it contaminates the soil, jet fuel had
recently been replaced by liquid propane for simulating crash fires. However, Giffels was
concerned about a lack of design specificity in a number of areas crucial to safety (e.g.,
sprinkler systems, safeguards against flashbacks, fuel quantity, fuel controls).
Furthermore, no design analysis was submitted. Giffels concluded that none existed.
However, none of this fell within the direct responsibility of Giffelss firm, whose
contract was simply to do the civil engineering work required for installation.
Nevertheless, Giffels concluded that his firm could not simply let this go. He
contacted the designers and asked them how they could justify putting their professional
seal of approval on the design. They replied, "We dont need to. Were the
government." Giffels agreed, but he persisted (to the point, he suspects, of making a
pest of himself). Noting that it is easy to be a minimalist (e.g., stay within the law),
Giffels worried that one might nevertheless fail to fulfill a responsibility to society.
He contacted another engineering firm that had installed a similar design at 10 sites. It,
too, he said, had been concerned about safety when looking at the designs. It contacted a
mechanical engineering firm, asking it to do a design study. This request was turned down
because of liability fears. So, the civil engineering firm asked the government agency to
write a letter absolving it of any responsibility in case of mishaps due to the inadequate
While not contesting the legality of this firms way of dealing with the problem,
Giffels insisted that this was not the right way to proceed. His company refused to
proceed with the installation until the safety issues were adequately addressed. The
government agency agreed to bring in three other firms to deal with the concerns. The
contract Giffels firm had was modified to provide assurances that the safety issues would
be addressed. Giffels stresses the importance of being able to communicate effectively
about these matters--a communication responsibility. Good communication, he says, is
essential to getting others on board.
Although successful in its efforts to ensure safety, Giffels says that this is not a
story that would receive press notice. However, not resisting, he insists, might
well have resulted in press coverage--viz., about the deaths of firefighters going through
Discuss the ethical challenges facing Giffels and his strategy in dealing with them.