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Category Archives: Stories
Missing a Mentor: What about Bob?
April 22, 2022Posted by on
The following is the eulogy I wrote for my friend and mentor Bob Newell, shared at his funeral in his firehouse on January 27, 2008.
Since last Tuesday night – the night that tore us apart inside – and the same night that brought us all together; we have mourned the loss of Robert E. Newell.
As I was leaving the funeral home last night, I told Bev: “Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate.”
Tomorrow is here. So, today we CELEBRATE the life of Bob Newell. It starts NOW!
To say Bob had a certain way about him – is like saying water is “helpful” in putting out fires. He was a real character.
You never had to wonder how Bob felt about a person or a subject. Did you?
His honesty was at times cutting – surpassed only by his caring for others. You always knew where Bob stood on a matter. And for that, I loved him.
In fact, Bob was a lot like the drink he enjoyed most: fine scotch.
He was smooth, colorful and 100 proof.
Bob Newell loved to teach and students loved to be taught by him, young and old, experienced and green. I don’t know of many of our fire service leaders who never took a class from Bob Newell sometime in their career. His reach crossed county and state lines, career and volunteer.
Bob was most in his element when in the classroom or on the training ground. He exuded pride in training his replacements and took great satisfaction in teaching new recruits.
And he didn’t just teach them how to be firefighters; he taught them how to be great firefighters.
In addition to all of their requisite skills, Bob taught them discipline and teamwork. He taught them to respect their officers, their peers and themselves. He taught them that the road to leadership begins by being good followers.
Bob put them back in line when they stepped out, and he was never shy about offering a verbal kick in the pants where appropriate.
I remember him “booting” a new recruit from our second Firefighter 1 Boot Camp. He told him to pick up his “stuff” and promptly escorted him out the door.
But, Bob knew how to impart grace too.
He followed the recruit outside and coached the young man on the importance of authority and respect in the fire service.
After a time long enough to scare the crap out of the other students, Bob then allowed him to return and apologize to the class – and that new recruit is now a good fireman.
Bob taught many valuable lessons that way.
Bob was also adept at applying a gentle nudge just at the right time to boost his students’ confidence when they doubted their capabilities.
He wasn’t just a great teacher; he was a great listener too. Several of Bob’s students have since shared stories of how Instructor Newell listened to their troubles and then talked them down “off the ledge” of quitting a class or even the fire service.
He was a good judge of character and could tell pretty quickly if you were a good investment. If he saw the smallest glimmer of hope for your success, he invested everything he had in helping you reach your goals.
He never, ever, allowed anyone to fail themselves.
He taught his students about life in general, life as a firefighter and the importance of loving this job and all that it has to offer, good and bad.
Bob was a rare breed. He was both old school and cutting edge at the same time.
At age 63, and just a few years into his retirement, Bob was not one to slow down or cut back. He was always the one pushing us, always exploring new innovations and embracing new technologies and techniques.
He… was on top of his game.
His dedication to his family and the fire service were unmatched and his legacy will live on for years to come.
Bob Newell was a good firefighter, a great instructor, a class act and a generous friend.
And if you knew Newell like I knew Newell… I know you’ll agree.
Lastly I’d like to address Bob’s two families. For those of you who have been around the fire service, you know that being a firefighter is like leading a double life. There’s the life with your real family, and then there’s the life with us, your other family.
While Bob was integral to both of his families, I envied him for achieving success at balancing the two, always keeping his first family first: Bev, Rob, Jay and John.
But we also know that Bob immersed himself in his second family, this great fire department, for almost 40 years.
Bob Newell was not only in the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department – but the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department was in him too.
You don’t have to look far around this fire station to see Bob Newell’s thumbprint. He left a lasting impression on physical things like the training room and the maze – and on the faces of the people who share his love for this fire department.
I know how proud he was of Hamburg because he spoke of your successes often. Bob was always testing people to be their best – as he knew we were capable of.
And he sure put his fellow firefighters to the test this week with implementing the very firefighter funeral program that he had fostered.
You have stepped up to the challenge and done an outstanding job, each and every one of you, together as a team, just the way Bob taught you.
I know he is beaming with Hamburg pride as you honor him today.
Bev, thank you for keeping Bob grounded and balanced by frequently dragging him away on vacation – while we were dragging him in a million other directions.
While there was never any doubt whether Bob had his priorities straight, you made sure he took time out of his so-called retirement to be with his other loves: you, the boys, their girls, and your grandchildren.
He was never shy about talking about his pride in – and love for – each of you, and how much he enjoyed every moment he spent with you.
Anyone who knows anything about firefighters knows that it’s not us who are making the sacrifices. Missed meals, birthdays and other important family gatherings are just more opportunities for us to do what we love.
The people making the real sacrifices are the people who love us – the ones who are left behind when the siren sounds.
Bev and boys, I know you made some real sacrifices with Bob’s dedication to serving his fire department and his community; but please know that it was not in vain.
He did more for the Village of Hamburg Fire Department and our fire service – than we will possibly ever realize.
Thank you for sharing him with us. Thank you for the gift that was Bob.
Bob liked quotes from famous firefighters, never taking into account that he was a famous firefighter himself.
I selected this quote from Edward F. Crocker, Fire Chief of the Fire Department of New York from 1899 to 1911; that I think speaks of who Robert E. Newell was:
I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman.
The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one,
but those who know the work
which a fireman has to do
believe his is a noble calling.
Our proudest moment is to save… lives.
Under the impulse of such thoughts the nobility of the occupation thrills us
and stimulates us to do deeds of daring,
even of supreme sacrifice.
I said earlier that the celebration of Bob Newell starts right now. So, in that vain I hope to leave you with a smile, a snicker and as Bob would have it –a smart-ass remark.
Bob and I had pet names for each other. I called him “Newelldorf” because I felt bad that he didn’t have as many letters in his last name as I did.
He routinely called me “wise guy” or “smart ass” – and used them interchangeably.
Our secretary Debbie just told me Friday that he would ask for “Tigger” whenever he called the office. I didn’t know that. Trust me, I’ve been called worse.
As many of you know, I talked to Bob just a few hours before he passed away. We exchanged the usual “mutual harassment” and made lunch plans.
He ended the conversation by saying, “OK Wise Guy, I’ll see you on Friday.”
I said, “You’re buying and I’m eating,” which was how all of our lunches went.
This brief contact left me with a smile.
Later that evening, I experienced the privilege of being with his family and his fire service family as we started the mourning and remembrance process – the way Bob would expect us to: together.
This week’s events made me remember something that Bob had told me before he retired in 2000.
He heeded me a warning.
He said: “Schmittendorf… when I retire, I’m going to be the biggest pain in your ass… and the best friend you’ll ever want.”
Newell… truer words were never spoken.
The Fire Service Sales Advantage
November 27, 2017Posted by on
Originally penned: December 15, 2010. Edited: November 26, 2017
I’ve always been a storyteller. My wife claims that I embellish but I’ve told her a million times: Don’t exaggerate. (Please hold your applause til the end of the article.)
Several years ago, in a corporate world far, far away from where I am now in my career, my boss forced me to strongly recommended that I take a Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage Course as a means of elevating my professional goals to the next level. Read more of this post
Why We Should All Want to be a Fireman
June 1, 2017Posted by on
I’ve known local WYRK Radio Personality Clay Moden for several years and in different circles, but even I was caught by surprise when he shared this ‘true confession’ about his life long dream to be a firefighter.
Although he hasn’t joined our ranks [yet], his confession does explain a lot about why he’s always been a very vocal supporter of the volunteer fire service (and everything else that is right about America).
I’m proud to know him and call him a friend – even if he only helps us from the sidelines. I hope his story inspires others to step up and join our service.
By at least my definition, Clay Moden is definitely a RuntotheCurb.com kid!
Here’s his story:
And if he ever wants to fulfill his dream, I know a guy…
PS – Clay: Thanks for the plug for our Erie County NY Volunteer Fire & Emergency Services Recruitment Campaign: iVolunteerFIRE.org
Dad’s Sidekick: Chief Brian Taylor
May 5, 2017Posted by on
As you can see in this photo, being a firefighter was a lifelong dream of mine.
As a child, I went to the fire station with my dad every chance I got. Dad was a volunteer firefighter and EMT in a small Northeast Ohio for 33 years. Read more of this post
Love Story Forged by Fire
February 15, 2015Posted by on
This is a story I wrote last year. This is a story about love and friendship, and about the day that Clinton asked me to be his wife, one year ago today:
Our story began long before we met. Shortly after I moved to Alaska, I took a job in aviation at a company called MarkAir. I worked on the ramp, loading cargo and bags on to airplanes- mostly 737’s. Most of my coworkers were male. It was a very physical job, and as a woman- I knew I had to work twice as hard to look half as ‘good’ as the men. So I did. I have never been afraid of hard work. Several of the guys were pretty immature. Many were not. I made some lifelong friendships in the couple of years I worked there (1993-1995). I met one of the greatest men I have ever known during that time. He was my supervisor. He was in charge of making sure we got the airplanes turned around on time and loaded properly. Andy Mullen was his name. Read more of this post
A Good Fireman Retires – FDNY Capt. Al Hagan
September 2, 2014Posted by on
“A Good Fireman Retires” – Capt Al Hagan-Beloved Fire Officer & Union Leader (REPRINTED FROM: The Secret List)
An old friend (and one of the original TSL subscribers) Captain Al Hagan has retired from the FDNY. Al was also President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association IAFF Local 854.
www.ufoa.orgMany of you will also know Al as a popular FDIC and Firehouse Expo Instructor-among many other classes and seminars-you are definitely fortunate to have spent time with Al .
He is absolutely one of a kind.
Al retires almost 41 years working as a Firefighter (E-36), Lieutenant (L-44) and Captain (L-43). He retired Saturday morning, August 30th, effective at 0900….Labor Day weekend. He is also retiring as President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. In Al’s words: “Collectively, it was a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world! I’d like to thank all of you that were kind enough to help.”
Take a moment to read and enjoy the below story from The Chief Leader.
Even if you haven’t met Al-take a look at the below for a great lesson in leadership-at the firehouse-and at the political level:
A GOOD FIREMAN-CAPTAIN AL HAGAN:
Alexander Hagan last week had already removed all of his personal photos from his office: the many snaps of his family, but also the one that captured himself in a very different time-in gym shorts as a young man who competed in five marathons when he wasn’t fighting fires.
As he got ready to retire on Aug. 30, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association President and Fire Captain, now 64, looked back fondly on a time when on nice days, he sometimes ran the 13 miles to work.
Smoke Took a Toll
Those days have slipped past, ended by a bum knee and the chronic bronchitis and cough that have plagued him for more than a decade. The lung problems recently sparked a diagnosis of reactive airway disease, a condition that can result from exposure to noxious substances and that has been called “occupational asthma.” Mr. Hagan said he might have gotten it even if he hadn’t spent months cleaning up at the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11. Read more of this post
Death, Taxes and the Brotherhood
December 20, 2013Posted by on
I enjoyed meeting you this morning at Depew’s day drill. I belong to the Depew Fire Department’s Hook & Ladder Co. 1. I am proudly a “Hook” with a Maltese Cross tattoo to prove it too. (Once a Hook, Always a Hook!)
I want to tell you this one story:
My proudest moment in the department came nearly two years ago, February 2011, at my Mom’s wake.
My Mom was a fireman’s wife. My Dad, Vince, died as a life member of the Winchester Volunteer Fire Co. many years ago. Mom was just weeks shy of her 89th birthday. We held the wake at Hoy’s Funeral Home in West Seneca. Read more of this post
News Article Offers Insight into Interesting Lives of Volunteer Firefighters
December 16, 2013Posted by on
Buffalo News Feature Reporter Ann Neville — a volunteer firefighter herself — shares her keen insight into the interesting and interrupted lifestyles that come with being a volunteer firefighter in this two-page feature published on Sunday-December 15, 2013.
We often say that life in the fire service is not a job — it’s a lifestyle — and a very interrupted lifestyle at that. But, the next time the siren sounds we’re ready to run out the door: clothes, keys and equipment in hand; leaving our loved ones behind in a warm bed, at the dinner table, or just as we were all ready to walk out the door for a family gathering. Read more of this post
The Midnight Express
October 15, 2013Posted by on
This will be a shorter version of a much more detailed post to come but for now, I have to share some of the story behind this photo.
A good friend and mentor of mine, Jim Guy just posted this photo of me that dates back almost 20 years.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Washington, DC and visiting the “Midnight Express” — home to 16 Engine, 3 Truck and the 6th Battalion Chief. Despite being my first trip, accompanied by Jim, Dave Sherman and Ric Dimpfl, they made me drive on the Beltway around DC — just perfect.
We were traveling as the management team of The Fire Fighter Newspaper, a publication just three years in existence at the time, to the annual National Fire & Emergency Services Congressional Caucus dinner hosted by the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI.org) at the famous Washington Hilton. As the dinner cost something like $250 a plate, we were honored to be the guests of Volunteer Firemens Insurance Services (VFIS.com). (Why the Washington Hilton is famous is fodder for the longer version of this story!) Read more of this post
The most important stories of all
February 11, 2013Posted by on
Two years ago, 2011 was my first year on the social media staff for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and, being my first time attending the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service, I said afterwards that I was glad I was so caught up in the technology that I didn’t get caught up in all the emotion of it.
Last year, I wasn’t so lucky. I was tasked with interviewing and capturing the stories of the survivors about their firefighters.
Our goal was to capture 60-90 seconds of video for sharing via the Foundation’s various social media channels. Invariably, even if I talked to a particular survivor for 10 to 15 minutes, it wasn’t until the end or when I asked if they had anything else they’d like to share, if they had anything else they wanted people to know about their loved one — that the real gemstones of insight came out. Read more of this post