Blowin’ Smoke with Matt Flagler

My name is Matt Flagler. I am a father and a Fireman. I am a Lieutenant with the Cincinnati Fire Department. After serving in a variety of roles for the CFD, both operational and administrative, I am currently assigned in Operations, on Engine Company Three, the best engine in the city.

When I come home, I serve as the Volunteer Assistant Fire Chief for Wyoming, Ohio Fire-EMS. We are a 78 member combination department where 100% of the firefighting and BLS transport operations are provided by volunteers.

I am also involved in many other endeavors, regional IMAT, Chief’s association, IAFF etc. However, the one area that I am very passionate about is helping firefighters in developing nations. Check out an awesome project at https://www.facebook.com/AfricaFireMission . We could use your support!

How many years have you served in the fire service?

I began as a cadet (junior firefighter) a little over 25 years ago. I have been a firefighter for 21 years now.

Why did you join the fire service?

Growing up in a volunteer firefighting family, I always knew I would have an involvement in the fire service. Once in college I was searching for a career path when I realized that as a then part-time firefighter I had a job I loved and that I actually looked forward to going to work. From that day forward I leaned into the job and have made it my life’s work.

I specifically like the family atmosphere and the physical and mental challenges that come with every call.

Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference?

I love working with people. I work very hard to help others enter, survive and thrive in our profession. I enjoy teaching and working with our newest firefighters very much. I hope these efforts accomplish two ends: First to make sure that our citizens, our civic leaders and most importantly the fire service itself knows that Firefighters (people) are the most important part of keeping a community safe. Second, I hope that our Firefighters take their value to heart: working hard, being safe and serving their citizens fully, no matter what the call or who the caller.

Have you accomplished any specific personal goals during your career?

Yes. However, I am most proud of the group goals that I have accomplished while working with other firefighters. Being part of an amazing team that integrated two volunteer departments successfully is just one example.

What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service?

When I first joined the fire service, the Fire Department was seen as a vital function of local government. Following September 11, the fire service took on many additional duties to better protect our communities. With the depressed economy, many fire departments are seen as a drain on the budget, and often the first place to cut. I have experienced this reality in both my urban and small town environment.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?

The biggest challenge we face is reversing the trend of diminished value to our communities. We need to be active. We need to use solid data to support our requests for resources. We even need to change (gasp) our way of thinking, of deployment, of procedures.

What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career?

A tried-and-true Cincinnati Fire tradition is to baptize the proby on his/her firs day in the firehouse. The Captain will say “Come on kid, stand in front of the firehouse and we’ll take your picture”. Meanwhile, the rest of the company is waiting on the roof above with buckets of water.

On a related note, if you’re ever on the bay floor of a Cincinnati firehouse on a hot summer day, and someone from above calls you over to the pole hole to “show you something”, that “something” will also be a bucket of water.

During your many years on the job, how were you able to push through the darkest of times?

Three F’s. Faith. Family. Firefighters. Being open to all three will see you through.

If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be?

Firefighting is very much a job. When you have a job, you are expected to WORK. Hard. Paid or volunteer, you are your community’s only line of defense from fire and disaster. When that call for service comes you must take action. You must push your physical limits. You will even have to take calculated risks to protect others.

But more than that hero stuff, the WORK of the fire service is constant. Whose job is it to train? Yours. Whose job is it to clean that pop can out of the rescue truck? Yours. As a firefighter, especially a new one, it is ALWAYS your turn. So get in there and work. Hard. It will change your life and you won’t regret it.