This edition of Blowin’ Smoke features a veteran member of the fire service from a department just a few hours away. Chief Ty Dickerson is the Chief of the City of Lexington Fire Department in Lexington, Virginia. I reached out to Chief Dickerson after reading his chapter in Chief Billy Goldfeder’s newest release, “Pass It On.” Purchase your copy today by clicking here (Proceeds from your purchase will be donated to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation).
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 36 years and am the second in my family behind my father to serve as a firefighter. I first joined the Carlisle Fire Company in my hometown of Milford Delaware then later joined the Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company in Newark DE while attending the University of Delaware. When I transferred to the University of Maryland I joined the College Park Volunteer Fire Department and lived in the fire station in the “Sackroom” with 11 other student firefighters. After 28 years there and every position from Probie to Chief I was given a wonderful opportunity to move to Lexington Virginia, a small town like I grew up in, to become the first ever career fire chief and to develop a combination fire-rescue service for the community.
What was your drive to make you want to join the fire service? A desire to give back to my community and following in the steps of my Father who had been a volunteer firefighter.
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 think concentrating my efforts and energies within my fire department and especially mentoring and teaching newer members and new officers is one of the most rewarding parts of my career. Watching young firefighters develop and grow personally and professionally has been a big part of my life.
Do you currently have any specific personal goals you would like to accomplish during your career, and have you completed any of those already? To continue to position our department to deliver the best service possible to the citizens that we serve. While I enjoy being involved in fire service activities at the national level the most rewarding part of this job is to see successes at home in my own department and to see our own people learn and grow and succeed.
What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service? Change is such a constant for us and we sometimes don’t even see it all happening around us. It is good that we keep so many traditions as a foundation for our growth. The tools and equipment and technologies of today as compared with the 1970’s is so different and so much better for our folks in so many ways (although I do miss some great stuff like open cab rigs on a nice day!). The job is so much more difficult today for the firefighters on the rigs. We expect so much more from them and have piled so much more onto their “to do” list that one of the most impressive things is how they rise to the challenge and accept the added work and responsibilities.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today? Keeping up with all of the training demands and not only keeping current on all of the technical things but really keeping our skills sharp is by far the biggest demand. Of course we also have the need for more staffing but once we get additional personnel, career or volunteer, the training cycle starts again.
During all of your years on the job, how were/are you able to push through the darkest of times? Support of family and friends is key to maintaining your motivations in this job. You have to love the job and have to have a long range vision and goal and keep that in focus not just the day to day obstacles. The fire service has been a source of some unbelievable friendships and it has been a great ride!
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”? An emphasis on safety has so many aspects that I don’t know where to start. As a recent survivor of a likely job related cancer I find myself really emphasizing the importance of wearing your mask and cleaning up after a fire. The things we know today that we didn’t know 30+ years ago can save many lives and let some of today’s young firefighters have a long and healthy life and retirement.
If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be? Take a few minutes and read the insights and advice in Chief Goldfeder’s book “Pass it On”. There is plenty to be learned in that book. Also take the time to learn building construction and how fire affects the integrity of the structure to protect your own life and that of your fellow firefighters. Knowing and understanding building construction will also make you a better firefighter and fire officer as you will learn how and why fire spreads in a building. Pay attention to the work that UL and Chief Steve Kerber are doing as I am sure what we see out of them now is just the beginning.
What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career? I think that I heard a story once about a ritual called a “Chapel Tour” that used to happen in one department involving a firefighter, a backboard, and a trip across campus to be left to walk back to the station with NOTHING but themselves and the backboard. But I might have been imagining that……..
I would like to personally thank Chief Dickerson for taking the time to be featured on The “Model City” Firefighter in a ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ article. I have had the pleasure of meeting several of his men from the City of Lexington Fire Department, and they really seem like a great group! If you would like to be featured in a similar article, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.