ISFSI Member Spotlight: William Skaggs

1. Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service

My Interest in Public safety started very young, my childhood friend’s mom was a volunteer firefighter/EMT. She inspired me to take a path in a servitude career. I have been around a volunteer fire station as long as I can remember. Although my original interest was to be a police officer, I began volunteering in high school. Then after I graduated, I moved through the ranks in the volunteer service quickly and I got hired on full time in my hometown in 2008. I began my career as Public Safety Officer in one of the last Department of Public Safety’s in the United States. I was a police officer and doubled as a firefighter. That’s right, I carried bunker gear in the trunk of my police car. After seeing both sides, I decided that this career was not for me and left to pursue other oppurtunities. In 2011, I was recruited back by one of my mentors and it was one the best and most important decisions in my life. I proudly helped with the transition from a Department of Public Safety into separate departments with the creation of Alamogordo Fire Department and Alamogordo Police Department in 2014. I am currently a Shift Lieutenant, Head of the Fire Investigations Unit and an Instructor for the New Mexico State Firefighters Academy. Just to mentioned a few of the many areas of my expertise.

2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor

Growing up around and in the volunteer FD world and with the unique culture in my career department, I had tons of great mentors from the fire side and the law enforcement side and I wish I could mention them all, some are still around to read this and unfortunately, most are not. My inspiration to become an instructor was driven by the lack of certification in the firefighting culture of my home state and it existed in both the volunteer and career departments. I am fortunate to have a natural talent to teach, and I dove right in with my fellow firefighters and we began a journey that has inspired change in so many careers. Some well-known names like Frank Viscuso and Mark Von Appen drove and continue to drive my passion for teaching in the fire service. They let me know that I am not alone in the fire culture. Others like me exist and it is ok to expect more.

3. What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that

I have been and will continue to work on changing the culture in my fire department, the generation of firefighter that taught me this job is gone. A new generation of firefighters is taking over the fire service. I am working on adapting to this change without letting go of the traditions and culture of the fire service. The firefighting culture has been around for a long time, and everyone can learn from the triumphs and the downfalls of those who came before us.

4. Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career

My biggest accomplishment is in the Fire Investigations side of my career. I was able to build a Fire Investigations Unit within my department that is respected throughout my entire state. I have inspired many Fire Investigators to go above and beyond. I helped to build a new Fire Investigations curriculum and program through the New Mexico State Firefighters Academy. I had the privilege to take part in building this new curriculum and delivery program alongside some of my greatest mentors and friends.

5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor

Fortunately, I have had the privilege to accomplish a lot as an instructor. I have been able to rewrite and rebuild aged curriculums to tailor them to the new generation of firefighter. I have got to see these curriculums have great success as well which most may not see till after they are retired. I hope to continue to inspire new and old firefighters to better themselves, to take the time to invest in themselves.

a. When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by

I hope people remember my passion. I hope that my hard work and dedication to this amazing craft and the best job in the world continues to inspire firefighters long after I hang up my boots. Even though I come from a small department, I hope I have made an impact.

6. What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started

The biggest change I have seen in the fire service is transition out of the family culture that the fire service was founded on. There are less meals ate together at the Firehouse table. Less Family members coming to the stations for meals and events.

7. What is something that most people don’t know about you

Most don’t know that I had and continue to have so many other career opportunities and I could have been successful in so many of them, but I followed my heart and wouldn’t change my decision to come into the Fire service.

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

Big brother- I am always there for every member of my department, regardless of our relationships out of the firehouse or even we have had disagreements or have different views. I am always looking out for my brother and sisters and I always speak my mind.

9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, don’t let go of your passion, it is easy to fall into the complacent side of this job. When you have passion and drive, you will get criticized. It does not matter which aspect of this job you are passionate about. Whether it's being a Driver/Operator or a Fire Investigator, there is room for passion in every aspect of this career. If you fail, just simply try again and even if you get it right, push to be better. Also, don’t forget that we all learn something new every day. Anyone can teach us something at any moment, in any situation. Always remain Humble.

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