Blowin’ Smoke with The Fire Critic

This edition of Blowin’ Smoke is one that I have been looking forward to for some time. Not only do I look to Lt. Fleitz as a brother and a friend, I look up to him as a great mentor. He talks the talk and walks the walk. He has the knowledge needed for the job, and he has a passion to share it with others.

Lt. Rhett Fleitz (Photo by Nate Camfiord)

I work for the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department in Roanoke, Virginia. I began firefighting at the age of 17 with the Midlothian VFD in Chesterfield County, VA. I was hired by Roanoke in 1999 and promoted to Lt. in 2004.

First off, what made you want to start blogging and how did The Fire Critic come about?

I began blogging shortly after I got promoted. My position was at the airport on the ARFF company when I was promoted…there was a lot of downtime. I began blogging with RoanokeFire.com, then created VAFireNews.com. My first post can be seen here (http://www.roanokefire.com/2005/03/roanoke-firefighters/) in March of 2005. VAFireNews.com began shortly thereafter. That wasn’t enough, so I wrote a book on the history of my department. The book “Firefighting in Roanoke” (Amazon link) came out in December of 2006.

In 2009, I stopped updating RoanokeFire.com and created FireCritic.com because I wanted further reach with what I was doing. The Roanoke Fire Blog was too local. I had reach with VAFireNews.com, but it was mostly a news site for the State.

As a matter of fact, a good friend Nate Camfiord might be firing up RoanokeFire.com in the very near future with photos and news from around the Roanoke Valley.

The Fire Critic

The reason I got into blogging is because I saw a void when it came to the fire service. There were blogs popping up for everything except for firefighting. In the beginning, there were very few of us. I am happy to see that it has grown. There are niche blogs within the fire service for just about every topic. I think that collectively, we are doing some great things!

The network of fire service bloggers is profound. There are some huge names in the bunch and we all feed off of each other and stay in contact. It is a really neat group of dynamic personalities.

How many years have you served in the fire service, and has/is anyone else in your family on the job?

I have been firefighting since the age of 17. I am 36 now. I don’t like saying it much, but I have been doing this for 19 years. It seems very odd to me because I look and feel like I am only 19 years old. People joke with me all the time about looking young. I don’t mind, they all look like they have one foot in the grave anyways.

My father was a volunteer in Ohio before I was born. He was a volunteer at the Edgefield VFD outside of Canton around 1972 and the New Burlington VFD outside of Cincinnati 1975-1977. I don’t believe the departments are in existence anymore. I have searched for information on them in the past with no luck. He still loves it. He cranks up the scanner occasionally. My parents live outside of Nashville now, when I visit we take in a firehouse from time to time with my son Preston.

What was your drive to make you want to join the fire service?I used to carpool to school with some guys who volunteered. We would stop by the firehouse after school sometimes. One day, one of them said I should put in an application. I was told it should be easy to get voted in. I went home and told my mother I was going to be a firefighter. Once I got on and got my training, I realized very quickly that being a firefighter was what I wanted to do for a living.

Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference to either the fire service as a whole or the community you serve?

Lt. Fleitz recently appeared on MSNBC’s Caught On Camera: 100th Episode

I have a voice…a loud voice that reaches far and wide. That voice is FireCritic.com. I try to use it for the right purposes. I do my best to spread the love and share things that I think others should have put in front of them. Apparently I am doing something right. Not to be confused with my actual voice which can be loud as well. What can I say, I am excitable.

 

Do I try to make a difference? I’m a firefighter, aren’t I? Yes, that is why I got into this. To make a difference.

As for going above and beyond and making a huge difference in my department… I used to be very involved, but I am not anymore. I have focused my time outside of my department where my efforts have been better utilized. However, I am trying to regain focus within and I will let you know how it goes.

Do you currently have any specific personal goals you would like to accomplish during your career, and have you completed any of those already?

I would like to make Captain someday. We will see if I can achieve that goal. Mostly, I would like to leave it better than it was when I got here. I think we should all strive for that. Collectively, if we all focused on that, I think the fire service future could one day be regarded with the same honor and integrity many feel it has lost. I am not saying we don’t have a great fire service, I just don’t think many can see it right in front of them.

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

The next generation. I am kind of in-between the generations. I am not part of the newest, but I probably understand them the best. I like trying to understand them better and bridge the gaps between the many generations serving today. No one generation is better than another. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Smart leaders will exploit the strengths of each person and assist in making their weaknesses passé.

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

I feel strongly about this…

It is two parts:

1)      We need more firefighters who aren’t willing to give up their dignity in order to get ahead and throw others under the bus to get there.

2)      We need more leaders who won’t allow it and rather look at the merit of doing a good job day in and day out.

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

Roanoke Fire-EMS Dept. 3-A (L-R: Parker, Fleitz, Winter, Capt. Craft, Lucas)

I had a very dark time in my career. It was bad… I am not sure how I pushed through. I sleep good at night. I have a clear conscious. I hang around people I want to hang around and who want to be around me. I don’t waste my time trying to impress people who care more about themselves.

I’m happy, I have a great family, I work with a great crew…what more could I ask for?

With so many of our firefighters dying each year in the Line of Duty, what are some of the things you do to help ensure “Everyone Goes Home”?

I speak up. When I see something that I shouldn’t, I say something. Trust me, it doesn’t always go over that well. I’m not perfect, I still screw up plenty…but I acknowledge my weaknesses. I attempt to learn something new each day. I consistently reevaluate myself and my performance in order to become better.

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

  • Put your family first
  • Say the occasional prayer
  • Make sure you are happy, content, and make time for yourself
  • Constantly re-evaluate your performance as a firefighter
  • Read
  • Use sunscreen
  • Honor those who have served before us
  • Be Proud
  • Respect the Fire Service and each other

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

Never…Ever…Admit to anything!

But a great prank involves the ability to get a firefighter to call his Chief and admit to something he did that he thinks he is in trouble for. Be sure to let the Chief in on it first.

The Model City Firefighter would like to thank Lt. Fleitz for taking the time to answer the questions for the Blowin’ Smoke article. Be sure to check The Fire Critic out on Facebook by clicking here.