Blowin’ Smoke with Captain Willie Wines

Blowin’ Smoke is a recurring post on The “Model City” Firefighter that features an interview with different members of emergency services across the country. The intentions of the article is to share a small snapshot into the views and career experiences of these individuals, and highlight some of the differences that we share from the different parts of the country. If you would like to be featured in a Blowin’ Smoke article, contact us today at admin@modelcityfirefighter.com.

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blowinsmokewines (2)Captain Wines is a 2nd generation firefighter. He has 27 years’ experience as a Firefighter/EMT and has also held certification as a Nationally Registered Paramedic.

Following his years as a volunteer, in 1991 he was hired by an urban Department in Virginia where he quickly built an impressive resume and worked his way through the ranks to the level of Captain. Having served 18 years as a Company Officer, his assignments have placed him in a wide variety of companies.

Captain Wines currently runs or is involved with several Fire Service related Blogs / web sites including Ironfiremen.com.

Partnered with Lt. Rhett Fleitz (FireCritic.com), he is a motivational speaker for the Fire Service. They are available to speak or teach on a variety of subjects such as Motivating Firefighters, Improving Morale, Firefighter Mental Health and Wellness, Social Media for the Fire Service and more.

Captain Wines is a member in good standing of IAFF Local-1132 and very active in many Firefighter events across the Nation. He works with companies such as MN8-FoxFire to bring new, innovative and potently lifesaving technology to the Fire Service. He assists organizations such as The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, The 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Committee and more.

He has been married for 28 years to his wife Donna. They have 2 beautiful (adult) daughters, Randi-Jo and Reba as well as two grandsons, Wesley; who is better known as “The Buckaroo” and can often be found in the pages of Ironfiremen.com and his newest Wyatt Jackson.

Circa 1991

Circa 1991

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

I’ve been in the Fire Service for about 27 years now. I started as a volunteer in the rural community where I lived before getting hired in an urban Department once I met their age requirement and turned 21. I’m a 2nd Generation Firefighter following my father’s footsteps. He retired from the Department in which I work with just shy of 30 years of service. Before him, his uncle (by marriage) served as our Training Chief.

What was your drive to make you want to join the fire service?

I grew up around the firehouse. As kids, my brother and I couldn’t wait to get to dad’s firehouse. It was like we had a bunch of dads. Actually, they were more like uncles because they always put us up to mischief and let us do things a father may not. When you grow up in that type of atmosphere, it’s difficult to do anything else. I once thought I was going to be a rodeo star or professional hunting guide but I quickly realized that it hurt too much, didn’t pay the bills or keep food in the freezer.

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?

When I was a younger Firefighter, maybe not so much. I was consumed with just being a firefighter, or at least what I thought a firefighter was. It wasn’t until later in my career that I learned that I could make a difference and I’ve spent the last several years trying to do just that. Obviously, my web site is an outlet for many thoughts and perspectives pertaining to the Fire Service. Its popularity allows me to reach hundreds if not thousands of Brothers and Sisters across this Country and the World. I would like to think that some of the topics, discussions, debates etc. that I share have made a difference in some of their lives as well as impacted how they look at and do the job.

Click here to LIKE Cpt. Wines’ blog, Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen on Facebook!

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 still have many goals as I didn’t become focused on the important things until later in my life / career. First, I’d like to become a better husband and father. A firefighter’s life is as hard on the family as it is the firefighter and I never paid as much attention to that as I should have. Career wise, I’d like to become a better Officer. If I maintain the rank of Captain, its fine but I also hope to make the rank of Battalion Chief. I think I have a lot to offer my Department and its members. The challenges the position poses excites and empowers me to push forward. I think I could make a positive impact! I’d like to continue my work with the web site and grow my audience. I’d also like to continue and build upon speaking on a National level. Another goal would be to continue my work with and rise through the ranks of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend. I’ve been a volunteer there for the past several years serving with the production and Social Media teams. I hope to one day, have the HONOR of being a flag presenter. But, I guess my biggest goal would be to become a better mentor to the younger members all across the Country. To be a teacher and role model. To pass along the things I’ve learned, good, bad or indifferent so that they too can enjoy a long career.

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

I’ve seen a lot of change over the years and learned a valuable lesson along the way … change isn’t always bad. Maybe one of the biggest would be technology and the study of what we do. It seems like years ago, all we did was go to fires and put em out. We didn’t study why this happens or why this did or didn’t work. Today, we are studying and learning from every aspect of the job. We now have positive pressure SCBA, better PPE, radios, enclosed cabs etc. Our members are better trained and understand building construction, fire behavior, and ventilation. Today, we know not only what’s killing our members, we also know what’s saving them.

blowinsmokewines (6)What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?

As we have since our inception, the Fire Service continues to face many challenges. Throughout the years, we have overcome many of these issues / challenges while others seem to evolve and resurface over time. It’s difficult to prioritize our challenges as many of them we face could result in life and death… ours and/or those of the citizens we are sworn to serve and protect.

Bridging the gap between the younger and older generations of firefighters is just one of the challenges we face today. Recruitment, retention and building diversity (while maintaining standards) is another. Saving the volunteer system, pay and benefits, funding etc are just a few of the challenges we seem to face every year.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face however, is dealing with Firefighter physical and mental health. We study every aspect of fighting fires and performing rescues. Tailboard or kitchen table talk is usually always about strategy, tactics, fire behavior, reading smoke, building construction, VES, survivability profiling, Incident Command, RIT/RIC, May Day etc. as opposed to talks about over weight firefighters, proper nutrition, heart attacks, strokes, depression, stress or PTSD.

Our 2014 LODD’s (Line Of Duty Deaths) was kept below 100 but 44.7% of those we “not incident related”. Heart attacks and strokes remain our #1 killer. There were 87 LODDs in 2014 while there was 89 reports of Firefighter suicide. Those suicides are just the ones we happen to know about and are NOT counted in the LODDs. I fear many more went unreported and who knows how many unsuccessful attempts were made?

The challenge will be to make these types of conversations as acceptable, open and honest as those about training, strategy, tactics etc. The challenge will be to place as much focus, talent, resources and funding toward Firefighter Health and Wellness as we do other area. The challenge is no secret … it’s #1 on the 16 Life Safety Initiatives created during Tampa I through the Everyone Goes Home Program…. CULTURAL CHAGE!

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

Like every member on the job, I’ve had dark times. Some darker than others and the worst may be yet to come. At first, I don’t know how I pushed through. Back then, we didn’t talk about our “feelings” or the impact an image or call had on us. We filed it away in our own personal “mental filing cabinet” until one day there was a “trigger”. It’s not “if”, it’s “when”. If you’ve been one of those “I’m a tough firefighter and nothing bothers me” kind of members then I’m afraid you’re setting yourself up for a long hard ride. One day that “trigger” will open that filing cabinet and instead of having to deal with a single issue, you’ll then have a careers worth. It can be overwhelming to say the least. It can be career ending. Worse yet, it can be fatal. With that said, part of the answer is the “Brotherhood”. Having someone (or a group of someone) that we can open up to … to share our thoughts and feeling with. Someone who will understand and not judge. Someone to stand beside us and make sure we find the help, peace and understanding we may be searching for. After all… that’s what it’s all about… everyone going home.

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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 mentioned above that I volunteer for and am a huge supporter of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Sadly, it’s too late for me to impact the names on that wall but I can do my part to ensure their families (the Survivors) are taken care of. Beyond my work / support there, I take every opportunity afforded me to speak about the NFFF, and the Everyone Goes Home program. I share and endorse their postings, news etc. on my web site and social media outlets. Whenever and wherever I speak, I’m always sure to talk about the 16 Life Safety Initiatives, professional health and wellness, seat belt use, wearing you PPE and SCBA etc. and then I try to lead by example. As an Officer, I think that may be the best thing we can do… don’t just post the initiatives on the bulletin board or simply talk to your members about everyone going home, LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

Cpt. Wines and "Rookie" Randy

Cpt. Wines and “Rookie” Randy

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

You’re not as good as you think you are. You’ll never learn or know it all. Set goals and a timeline to achieve them. That “old Jake” you’re talking about didn’t get that way (old) by accident, learn from him. Respect is earned not given. Listen more, talk less. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Think before you speak. Take every training class you can…. Never stop learning. Help, don’t hurt and always DO THE RIGHT THING.

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

I’ve heard rumors of firehouse pranks in or around some of the stations I’ve been assigned to. I can neither confirm nor deny them at this time as I believe the Statute of Limitations has yet to run out on many of them. What I can tell you is that there are many things that I can and will tolerate around the firehouse ….. “fretting” is NOT one of them …. LOL

I’d like to thank my good friend and brother Cpt. Wines for taking the time to share a snapshot into his thoughts on the fire service, his career, and the future. I have had the pleasure of travelling across the country with him to a number of expos, and if we haven’t bumped into you at one…hopefully this is the year! – The “Model City” Firefighter