Tag Archives: volunteer firefighter

Missing a Mentor: What about Bob?

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.

Good morning.


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.

News Article Offers Insight into Interesting Lives of Volunteer Firefighters

The Boys and their boys: Pat Davis and Zach, John Latimore and Kyle, Alex and I, and Bruce with Keegan on his lap.

The Boys and their boys: Pat Davis and Zach, John Latimore and Kyle, Alex and I, and Bruce with Keegan on his lap.

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

Three Decades and One New Sidewalk.

I just came home from responding to my third second-alarm fire of the week in my role as Deputy Fire Coordinator in the Erie County Department of Emergency Services and have a narrow window of opportunity to write this post. I’ve got about two hours to shower, shave, eat and then report to a law enforcement detail I’m assigned to until 3am. So here goes:

Earlier today I responded to an EMS call for a person with chest pains. Being assigned as Fire/Rescue only, I don’t typically respond to a ton of house calls but I try to help out at my fair share. Today, I was glad I did.

Two of my all-time favorites at the fire station: Angelo Rizzuto and Denny Allen+ at a drill in 2010.

Upon returning to the station I went around to the administrative side of our building to check on the progress of our large parking lot paving project (large, as in square feet and dollars!). The contractors were just finishing the last section of new sidewalk around the perimeter of our assembly hall. Standing there with our President Geordie Sinclair and 53-year active member Angelo Rizzuto, I asked Geordie if I could write my initials in the corner of the concrete, just as I had done when the assembly hall and original sidewalk were built, in 1971.

I remember that event as if it were yesterday, recalling how the contractors paid a few of us neighborhood kids 25 or 50 cents a day to help them pick up materials and debris. I was 8-years old.

I thought that initialing the new sidewalk would only be appropriate, seeing as I’m still here, so many years later. It was then that Geordie reminded me that I have an important anniversary coming up this week. Read more of this post

Tremendous loss of a talented storyteller

Firefighter, Journalist Hal Bruno

Today, as we mourn the loss of fire service and journalistic leader Hal Bruno, it’s important to remember what an important part he was of our fire service, our communities and our world.

His depiction of the 1958 Our Lady of the Angels School fire that claimed 95 innocent lives is a classic example of his impact on our industry and the news world.

Rest in peace fine sir. You will be sorely missed but your contributions live on.

Rekindle: Chief Norm Flanders

Editor’s Note: My apologies to Chief Flanders for the delay in publishing his story. However, it’s only fitting that we publish this feature on our nation’s celebration of Independence Day as Norm Flanders is my favorite kind of two-hatter: a veteran of our US Armed Forces — and a veteran firefighter, and for that — we thank him for his service to his community and our country.

As a young boy, I always ran out to the street to see where the fire trucks were going and always waved as they drove by. I later befriended a firefighter in the city fire department and would stop by on his shift to say hi and visit. His friendliness and willingness to take a few minutes to talk to me impressed me greatly. Unfortunately we had to move out of the city and my weekly visits to the fire station ended.

Future Firefighter Preston

I was about 15 years old when my real passion first got started…so to speak. I helped our local small town FD {not the one I am with now}, at a structure fire that rekindled.

After we moved we lived near a lake. I learned to love to fish and swim. I loved being outdoors every chance I could. Then one afternoon while about five of us friends were swimming, we heard sirens coming up the road. We hurriedly dressed, then went to check out where the fire truck was going and what the excitement was about.

The excitement was at a large farm house that burned the day before, from a lightning strike. It was again on fire. So we followed the fire truck up the road to the house. There was a small amount of smoke showing from the second floor window and the hole in the roof.

At first there were only three firefighters and us kids at the fire scene. Two firefighters were taking a portable pump to the lake to draft water. We stood around watching what was taking place.

Read more of this post

Long Time Leader: Doc Moltrup

My Story:

PGFD Division Chief Donald "Doc" Moltrup

I first became interested in the fire service when I was three or four years old. We had a very good family friend near our home town of Beaver Falls, PA, who was the Chief of the Chippewa Township (PA) Volunteer Fire Department. We visited them often and I also looked forward to going to the fire station with him.

He also gave me all of his old issues of “Fireman” magazine, then the official magazine of the NFPA (and probably the only real fire service journal in that era). I poured through these magazines and even traced pictures of fire apparatus in advertisements in them and made up my own fictitious fire department with them.

Although my Dad was never in the fire service, he was kind of a fire buff so I went to fires with him often. I lived in State College (PA) for several of my pre-school years and a volunteer with the Alpha Fire Company in State College lived across from our house. I always saw him rushing off to fire calls and wished I could go too. Read more of this post

Help Out this Run-to-the-Curb Kid

Chiefs and Run-to-the-Curb Kids: Jimmy and Tommy Hook

We’ll share the rest of the story about 11-year old Tommy Hook soon but all you need to know for now is that his Dad, Deputy Chief Jimmy Hook of the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department died last week after a brief illness at age 42.

The good folks at HVFD are doing the right thing by him and making sure that Tommy has the financial support to go on to be a great kid after the loss of his dad — and to follow in his father’s footsteps as a great adult and maybe even a firefighter some day too.

I only met Jimmy and Tommy once, and just a few weeks ago during my visit to Hyattsville, but as you can see from this photo I snapped by chance right before they left the firehouse — both of them left an impression on me.

Here’s the link to the education fund that’s been set up for Tommy Hook. I hope you’ll consider helping them take care of this great Run-to-the-Curb kid: http://www.hvfd.com/hvfd/content/view/304/2/

Related Links:

Epic Stories from the Beltway

One week after I bunked and rode with Hyattsville Volunteers, the “white cloud” (as they called me because they didn’t catch any work while I was there) was lifted and HVFD caught all the work they could eat this past weekend.

Here’s a few links to their wild fires and wild times to whet your appetite. I can’t wait to hear the back stories of these adventures.

You could even say that this is the story of my life: A week late and a dozen fires short!

From the Halls of Hyattsville

Nik and Nick (practically twins) - two bunk-ins at Hyattsville Volunteers

It may be a while before I have a chance to share all of the great stories and experiences I heard this weekend during my awesome bunk-in tour-of-duty with Hyattsville Volunteers but I didn’t want to delay in showing you the photos.

While we didn’t catch any real work, I still had a blast and gained a real education on and appreciation for bunk-in programs — especially theirs.

I also had the opportunity to tour College Park Volunteer Fire Department — a class act and great fire-dorm set-up — courtesy of Capt. Matt Machala who is rightly very proud of their program.

All of these young people are pretty impressive.

So until I can find the time to get to the real story, here are some photos — to paint a thousand words.

How I met Billy D. Hayes … and stuff

This story of how I met Billy D. Hayes (and several other great people) was told when Billy called in during the Firefighter Storytellers Internet Radio Show with special guest Janet Wilmoth on February 9, 2011. It was originally printed  in “The Volunteer Firefighter” magazine from www.fasny.com –  August- 2008


This article is one in a series of toolkits focusing on recruitment, retention, fire service marketing and leadership.


My best friend: Chief Dennis Allen

Last month I said we’d take the summer off from talking about clearinghouses and trench work to focus on some other aspects of the fire service as they relate to recruitment and retention.

So, I decided we’d talk about an often mentioned but rarely explored principle of the fire service: Brotherhood. For the purposes of this article, the term “brotherhood” is gender-generic, so I hope the feminist revolution doesn’t show up at my doorstep any time soon.

Already you might be asking yourself what brotherhood has to do with recruitment and retention. But think about it. What is one of the greatest if not somewhat intangible assets we have to offer someone thinking about joining our ranks? That’s right; it’s the real brotherhood of the fire service. Read more of this post