Blowin’ Smoke with Chief Dave Cline

dcline (1)Dave Cline is Deputy Chief of the Smithville Area Fire Protection District in Smithville, Missouri. Smithville is a suburb on the north side of Kansas City, Missouri. As a fire protection district, SAFPD covers 112 square miles including the City of Smithville. SAFD is a combination department. Our volunteer firefighters are all graduates of a fire academy where they receive Firefighter I&II and EMT. Our volunteers serve a minimum of 48 hours per month of in-station time with their assigned shift. SAFD responds to an average of 1300 incidents annually.

Chief Cline started his career as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 17 in Bloomfield, IA. He completed his EMT training at night while still in high school. Dave received his Paramedic training at the University of Iowa Hospital’s EMS Learning Resource Center. Chief Cline was a certified paramedic in Iowa at the age of 19. (Scary!)

Chief Cline worked in 2 county-wide EMS services until becoming a career Firefighter-Paramedic with the City of Gladstone Public Safety Department in 1996. Dave joined SAFD in 2003 as they transitioned from an all-volunteer to a combination department. Since that time Chief Cline rose through the ranks from Captain, to Assistant Chief, to Deputy Chief. Currently Chief Cline heads the Training and Prevention offices for the Smithville Area Fire Protection District.

Chief Cline lives in Smithville, Missouri with his wife of 16 years Sarah and 3 children, Mason, Connor, and Addison. Chief Cline enjoys spending time with family, perfecting his barbecue skills, and hunting/fishing with his children.


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

I have a total of 23 years of service. Growing up my parents operated one of the first ambulance services in rural Iowa. I feel that exposure taught me early on about serving others. Many nights’ dinner or family plans were delayed as one or both of my parents left to respond to emergencies in our hometown.

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

I think early on it was the excitement. Remember, I was 17 and working as an EMT and then 19 working as a medic. There are not too many legal ways a guy can have that much excitement in rural Iowa. When I became a career firefighter and moved to Kansas City it was all about the excitement. I thought I had really made it to the big league! I was way too young to truly appreciate the job and understand what it really is. I am forever thankful for the people I worked with back than that showed great patience with me. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy!

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?

If you have read any of my articles on or followed me on Twitter you see that my common theme is “Make a Difference!” I truly believe that each of us can make a difference every day on the job. I have been an instructor in-house, for a local community college, and in private industry. I think sharing our knowledge makes a huge impact on others an also improves ourselves. In my role as a chief officer I always strive to make a difference in our operations. Sometimes that is in a command role but more often if is in a support function. There are always things that can be done to improve firefighter safety or improve service to our citizens.

At this point in my career I hope to make a difference by reminding firefighters what makes this job great. I think we forget sometimes the ideals this craft was built upon. I like to remind firefighter, new and old, that this is still a noble profession built on the premise of helping others.

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

As you read above I jumped onto this path at a very young age. I took advantage of opportunities as they came along and soon was racking up years of experience and had little to no formal college education. I know I will take some heat for this but I believe that a college education is important in this career if you plan to really move ahead. Can you get there without it? Maybe, depending on your organization; but should we strive for just ‘good enough’? I think in today’s environment chief officers need a college degree. I took the long road and spent 8 years getting a 2-year degree but with working fulltime, working the side jobs, and having kids I made it happen. I then went on and received my Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Park University. I start the Executive Fire Officer program at the National Fire Academy in September. I would have to say obtaining that is my next professional goal.

My ultimate career goal is to be a Fire Chief of a medium sized fire department. I would look for a department large enough to properly serve its community but small enough that it is still effective.

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

The biggest change I see is the mind-set of the newest members joining our ranks. Holy-cow, they certainly see things differently than we do! I think the entitlement concept then come in with will be tough to overcome. I reinforce whenever I can that this job owes them nothing. The job was here long before them and it will still be here long after they are gone. I sense sometimes as a whole that they do not understand service before self. Now, that being said, they generation running the show when we started may have thought the same thing about us.

dcline (2)What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?

Sadly, I think our biggest challenge in many communities is proving our necessity. City hall can begin to look at us, with our decreasing number of fires, and say we should downsize. Unless we have made a personal connection with citizens through excellent service they may see us in the same light. We are big and our stuff is expensive. Can they get by with less? We are becoming a ‘throw it away’ society. If they have a fire just throw the debris away and insurance will buy them new. It is a slippery slope to lose our relevance in the community. Firefighters may gruff at the numerous PR events and such but we need to boost our image as ‘community helpers’ not as just another tax expense.

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

I try to remember that there is a fundamental goodness in the job that we do. I believe people do need us. I believe that what we do is important, no matter how small the task. What we do matters to other people. I believe we are each put in these positions to make things better for other people.

dcline (3)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”?

In my department I like to train on and enforce the basics. We are not killing firefighters in tech rescue situations or in hazmat scenes. We are killing them in residential structures conducting searches and stretching hose lines. The vast majority of LODD’s can be boiled down to a lack of communication, violation of common safety practices, or health related issues. I think we should drill on the basics of the job. We should be better at sizing up situations and making good decisions based on facts that we see. We have got to be tactfully proficient. Less fires every year is hurting us in teaching this craft to new members.

We must continue to change the culture towards healthy firefighters; we have to continue to promote fitness. As a group, we must address the exposures and occupational cancers that are killing our members.

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

I have used this in every graduation speech I have given at the regional fire academy…

…Now the down and dirty. Take care of yourself. Take care of your body. Eat right, exercise; protect your heart and your lungs. Someday your physical abilities may mean life or death for a citizen, your crew, or even yourself.

Learn the job and respect those who went before you. Stay positive, foster good relationships with your co-workers, advance your education, seek opportunities to learn, practice good communication, have courage, have compassion, have integrity, respect others, take absolutely nothing for granted, follow good leaders, and do the right thing.

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

My most memorable was the age old trick of plastic wrap stretched tightly over the toilet bowl. Not the most exciting I know but things got real exciting when it was the BC that used the head in the middle of the night. “This $hit stops now!” was yelled from the locker room…..

I’d like to thank Chief Cline for taking the time to complete this Blowin’ Smoke interview with me. I had the pleasure to finally meet Chief Cline at the Brotherhood Bash this year in Indianapolis at FDIC. Be sure to follow Chief Cline on twitter: @chiefdavecline