My Name is Robby Owens, and I am a Firefighter/Medic for a Career Fire Department in Central Virginia. I started in the fire service with the Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department at age 15, and in my almost 10 years there, I held the ranks of Firefighter/EMT, Truck Company Lieutenant, Truck Company Captain, and 2nd Assistant Chief. Prior to working for my current department, I was hired at age 20 as a Firefighter/EMT with the Stafford County Virginia Department of Fire and Rescue. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University, am an NREMT-I, Fire Officer Level 4, Fire Instructor Level 2, and hold several certifications on a variety of fire service disciplines ranging from Command and Control to Technical Rescue. I have also taught programs at FDIC and Firehouse EXPO, and run the fire service blog, Average Jake Firefighter (www.averagejakeff.wordpress.com). I am also lucky to be married to my wife, Karen, and have our two awesome son’s, Junior, age 7, and Ben, age 4.
How many years have you served in the fire service, and has/is anyone else in your family on the job?
I have been in the fire service for 16 years, and come from a fire service family. My dad has close to 30 years in the fire service with experience ranging from industrial fire brigade, volunteer, and career. My brother, Danny, is also a fireman with an Urban Fire Department in Virginia. My Brother in law is a Damage Control Fireman in the United States Navy, and my wife, Karen, is a NREMT-I, EMT Instructor, Life member of East Hanover Volunteer Rescue Squad, a certified firefighter, and works for the State of Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services.
What was your drive to make you want to join the fire service?
My Dad was the biggest influence, but he did not have to push too hard. I was always curious when he would bring his gear home, and then after a few trips to the firehouse, I was hooked.
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?
I feel that sharing knowledge is the best way I have tried to make a difference. Far too often we see people hoard knowledge because they are scared that if they tell people too much then that person will pass them over. I was VERY fortunate to have people in my fire service career, past and present, who do nothing but give you everything they know in order to make everyone around them better. If I have something to share, I am going to share it in the hopes that even if one person benefits from it, it was well worth my time.
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 am a very goal oriented person. As I have grown in the fire service, my goals have also evolved. When I was 15, my goal was the get all my basic fire and EMS certifications. When I was 18, I wanted to get hired as a career firefighter, at 25 I wanted to finish my degree, and at 28 I wanted to become a Medic. My goals are always changing with me. Right now, I am seeking formal leadership opportunities through promotion. My goal is to become a company officer, and after that, I know I have loftier goals of a Masters Degree, Chief level leadership, Executive Fire Officer, etc.
What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service?
Technology has by far been the biggest change. When I started, we were still using belt mounted regulators, and no one but the officers had portable radios. Today, we have computers in the rigs that when you press a button will tell you turn by turn directions on how to get to a call! All of our reporting is computer based, and our SCBA continues to get even more sophisticated.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?
The biggest challenge the fire service faces today is how we can continue to meet the increasing demands of our customer base. Fires may be down, but emergencies are continually on the rise. The EMS call load is massive all over, and we are the catchall when the dispatcher does not know who to send. Yet, we still need to maintain those basic and advanced fire skills, while also maintaining and acquiring skill sets in other disciplines.
During all of your years on the job, how were/are you able to push through the darkest of times?
Thankfully the “dark” times have been few and far between, however when they do come, I am lucky to have my wife at home who I can talk to, and because she has been there she understands. Also, it is ok to “unplug” every so often. I am constantly involved in some sort of fire service activity, even on vacation, I want to visit fire houses, and I always listen to the scanner while at home, etc. When you get that burn out feeling, maybe you do not want to get up and go to work, or you had a bad call, take a day or two or 5 and unplug from the fire service.
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”?
Most of our LODD are health related, and the biggest thing I do is push physical fitness to the forefront. First, physical fitness started out as a personal mission, but it has expanded to include members of my shift. We as a group are constantly coming up with challenging group workouts, and the motivation has pushed me even further.
If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be?
Success is when preparation meets opportunity. Make sure that you never take this job for granted, and that when that opportunity for success presents itself you have done the preparation beforehand, and NEVER BE COMPLACENT!
What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career?
Wow so many to name, I would have to say the best one would be the classic baby powder in the vehicle vents. It is simple, funny, and usually ruins nothing. I might have been able to pull it off several times (wink wink).