My mom married a Richmond firefighter when I was 4. From then on, I kind of grew up in the department. I used to get my hair cut at the station around all the firefighters. I guess it was natural that I joined.
Firefighters are adrenaline junkies. I remember my first fire. It was in a South Richmond restaurant. I don't recall being nervous or afraid, just exhilarated. No one was hurt, but fire gutted the whole building.
The thing about this job is that you have to be prepared and respond to a sudden passing of command. That's what happened when I took over last year and became chief. It was a sudden passing of command: Yesterday there was one shift working, and today there's another shift. I'm one of the only directors in Wilder's administration who was promoted within. I was hired to be a change agent within the organization.
Over the last 30 years, this department has been in a shrinking posture. With the reality of budget cuts, we're in the mode of playing to not lose what we have. The fire department has to be on its toes when [City Hall] asks: "Which positions are you going to eliminate? Which stations are you going to close?"
We're the city's first responder. And we're as lean as we've ever been. As the fire on Broad Street at VCU covering one-half a square mile showed, you want as much fire department as you can afford. We have 23 fire companies, 413 sworn positions. There are always a hundred officers on the street.
Can we work smarter? You know the saying, "Water's wet and fire's hot"? We employ tactics and strategies that are very tried and true, and we're conditioned to do things in a traditional sense. ... At the same time, the department is changing, evolving. There's more emphasis on HAZMAT, technical rescue, emergency management, homeland security, the way we administer CPR.
Still, in the sense that we represent what people fear, we are the village fire company, and we are that other half of human nature. as told to Brandon Walters; photographed by Stephen SalpukasClick here for more News and Features