Don’t mess with Texas. This week’s #YOUAREGOVX profile comes from a 30-year vet of Texas fire. Tom reflects on the good ol’ days of rolling up to a blaze on the side of an engine, and the value of always staying true to your crew.
Can you give us a brief look at your service history?
I was in the US Army for three years, and I served in the 249th Engineer Battalion. My last year of service was in 1974. Following that, I served over 30 years with the fire service, starting with Odessa Fire Department and then I went on to a combination department over in central Texas. I started as a volunteer, then became a professional, and then moved into aircraft firefighting. I finished my career as the chief of my department in 2009.
What was your most memorable day on the job?
Even though it was over 30 years ago, I still remember my first full day as a firefighter right out of the academy. I’ll bet every firefighter remembers that day. You show up on the floor with the rest of the guys, and then when you get a call and you head out, and you’re one of them. You’re accepted as one of the crew. It’s your first day on the job and you get all your gear onto the apparatus, and you’re going to work. You’re going out and you’re doing what you always wanted to do.
After your years of fighting fires, what’s a major change you’ve seen in the fire service?
You don’t ever see guys riding on the outside of a fire apparatus. Those were the days. Nowadays, everyone is enclosed. But I was lucky, I got to have a taste of the old school. There’s nothing like hitching a ride on the side of an engine on approach to a fire. It’s exhilarating.
And I remember those old, simple nozzles, and then adapting to the smooth bore new ones. Everything’s newer and modern and faster these days.
What was your biggest goal you’ve accomplished?
I had a goal when I got started in the fire service: I wanted to be a fire chief. And I made it. On that day, I had realized that all the goals I had set for myself had been fulfilled. I had a rocky start in high school, and for me to get all the way through college and make it all the way to the top and be in charge of a department … that was my biggest achievement.
What living person do you most admire?
I honestly admire George W. Bush the most. He shows respect and concern to everyone even to this day.
Do you have a life motto?
I keep it simple. Be fair and honest to everyone.
What does an Army vet and former fire chief do in his spare time?
I still hang out with most of the guys from the department. Even though I retired in 2009, I still get together with them, go out hunting, and have BBQs. There’s a sense of brotherhood that’s second to none in the fire service. You’re so tight with each other, it’s like an extended family. I felt something similar in the military, and I imagine folks in law enforcement feel much the same way. I spent a third of my life with these guys.