1. Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service
I’ve been in the fire service since 2001 and have worked in career, volunteer, and combination departments. I started my career in Eastern Tennessee were my uncle was the Asst. Chief of a volunteer fire department. I was with him one night when he responded to a MVA, I remember watching and thinking that their work seemed interesting.. A few nights later they had a structure fire up the road from my house and I went up and watched them work again, at which point they said if I was going to keep showing up I should just come join, the rest is history. I stayed in Tennessee until 2015 when I moved to Bozeman, MT to take the Fire Chiefs job.
2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor
Some of my first trainings were from an instructor named Steve Payne. Steve was a firefighter with the Oak Ridge Fire Department and instructor with the state fire academy who had a unique way of pushing you really hard during training but if you earned his respect he was also a great person to be around outside of training. I got the opportunity to work with Steve at Oak Ridge during my career and I always enjoyed those shifts. He engrained in to me, and many others, to never subscribe to the concept of “I could do it if I had to”, train hard every shift and earn your paycheck. I got the chance to teach with Steve a few times which was humbling and somewhat nerve racking, I certainly didn’t want to disappoint him, whether it was in training or on shift.
Chief Tim Sendlebach and Chief Shane Ray are two others that have had a huge impact and influence on me, the fact that we are all EKU grads is just a bonus. I remember going over to Spartanburg for the burns with Chief Ray and then bringing that information back to Tennessee and conducting training in our area. I also remember sitting with Chief Sendlebach at UL for some of the test burns and just picking his brain about what was going on and what he saw. Two chiefs who have so much knowledge and have never hesitated to share it.
Lastly, anytime I can sit and listen to Brad French drop some knowledge is just amazing. Knowledge, energy, passion, and just a great person. One of my favorites.
3. What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that
We are in the process of opening a new station and we are implementing many new steps and processes related to cancer prevention. From station layout to new equipment to new policies and procedures, I feel like we are taking a huge leap forward in our cancer prevention efforts for our firefighters, most of what we have learned from other organizations. As we continue to move into our new station, I’m sure there will be things we learn that we learn, both good and bad, and we will happily share those with others.
4. Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career
We have started putting on joint fire academies in our county in the last year. Prior to these joint academies each department was doing their own thing and there was very little consistency in our recruit academies which was concerning as we are so dependent on each other for mutual aid. Today we are in the middle of our second joint academy and the return or impact of these is just incredible. The recruits from different departments are forming relationships that will long outlive their academies and the instructors from different departments are getting to work together and share information. It is truly making the fire service across our entire county better.
5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor
a. When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by
I really hope that I just leave it better than I found it. I have been blessed to learn so much from so many others in the fire service and with that knowledge comes the responsibility of sharing that information with others and hopefully adding some additional lessons learned with it. I hope that anyone I have ever had as a student has left with some new knowledge and some motivation to continue their personal push to get better. I would also hope that people I have come in contact with know that I care about them, both personally and professionally, and that I’m always available to them for whatever they might need.
6. What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started
Science and technology. The work that has come from UL, NIST, ISFSI, and others to enhance our understanding of fire ground behavior and fire dynamics is somewhat mind blowing. We have been provided with more information in the last decade than the previous 200 years and we continue to learn more and more. If you look at people who have drastically changed the fire service many will point to Chief Brunacini or Chief Layman, and many others, but I think when the current and next generation of fire service members looks back on what Dr. Steve Kerber and Dr. Dan Madrzykowski have opened our eyes to it is truly going to be amazing to see how much they have impacted and changed the fire service. The work from Steve and Dan has changed so much so fast that I’m not really sure we have grasped how impactful it is at this point.
7. What is something that most people don’t know about you
Not a lot of secrets or hidden talents with me. I love college football, pretty much takes up all my Saturdays in the Fall, Go Vols!!! I have attempted for many years to become an average drummer but have decided it is just easier to watch a real drummer like Chief Eddie Buchanan. Sitting on the porch in the evenings with my two labs isn’t a bad thing either.
8. If you could choose your title (other than the generic Training Officer or Firefighter) that uniquely describes you in your position, what would it be and why
I’ve never been a person who is hung up on titles, I’m good with people just calling me whatever they are comfortable with, I’m more concerned with the work that I do and the people I impact. People’s respect is far more important to me than a title.
9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor
Get better every day and try to have positive impact on those around you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and learn from others, sometimes the best instructors are the best students as well. Take pride in your work and do you best to leave it better than you found it and never fall into the mindset of I could do it if I had to.