What I’ve Learned

This is the first of a new feature that I hope is going to give fire service leaders an opportunity to share some of their “collective wisdom” with the younger members of today’s fire service.  I hope you readers enjoy it!–Chief Avsec
Dennis Rubin is currently the Fire Chief in De Pere, WI. He’s previously served as the Fire Chief in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, GA, and Dothan, AL.

By Dennis L. Rubin

I became a firefighter on September 9, 1968 at the ripe old age of 16. After waiting more than half of my time on earth for this exact minute, I was “voted in” at Hyattsville Fire Department – Company 1. At the time that I got started, our Firehouse was on Farragut Street just off of US Route 1.

My first alarm was a report of a building fire at the Prince George’s Plaza. We were dispatched as the fifth due Engine Company that night. I was assigned (of course) to ride the “real” back step. The jump seats were reserved for senior members and it would be awhile before I was allowed to move up to an air pack position. I have been hanging on to this job for dear life ever since!

The craziest thing that I’ve seen on the job was a US Army horse’s hind legs stuck in the grill of a FBI agent’s vehicle during the 44th Presidential Inauguration. Fort Myers Old Guard was “saddled-up” waiting to start the march down Pennsylvania Avenue, when a horse was “spooked” by all of the confusion and noise. When it slipped in the street and attempted to return to all fours, the horse kicked both hooves through the grill section of the Federal Officer’s Chevy Tahoe. The Fire Department engaged to help remove the trust steed’s legs from the car. Once removed, the Army Veterinarian was took the horse back to the stall at the Military Base. There are a few pictures of this event in my latest textbook “DC FIRE”.

People generally expect us to solve their problem 100% of the time. The large majority of the time, we are able to do just that for our various communities. I strongly discourage the use of the term “first responders”. We are the first, last and generally the only responders to emergency events in our community. We are our only “back-up” and the citizens expect a lot from us. My advice is to be ready, be trained and be fit to do the work that you are asked. “Flawlessly execute the basics of our job” is a quote from my leadership textbook.

To truly reduce firefighter deaths and injuries we have to mandate and enforce fire sprinkler technically. As Chief Alan Brunacini often says, “If it is submerged it will not burn”. Invest in the best technology in the market place to prevent fire deaths of all types – “sprinkle it!”

One thing I would change about the fire service culture is the resources that we are allotted to conduct our work. Funding should not be an issue for a community’s bedrock service of public safety, but it seems neglected in many American communities in general.

If my son or daughter wanted to become a firefighter…Too late, my son is a cop! I can only add, study harder and get the five more points of the civil service test and be a part of the thin red line (just teasing).

The hardest part of the job is discipline. I have spent the last 15 years or so professing that “self-discipline” is the best discipline of all. In Chief Billy Goldfeder’s book, “Past It On”, I write about this passion on page 341. Please check it out and help an amazing cause, The National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation.

The best part of this job is just about every part of it and generally the work at hand is amazing! If I had to choose a single element it would be any Emergency Work! That part wins hands down!!!

Young people entering the fire service are generally outstanding. Work hard and enjoy every minute of your career or volunteer service. Blink and forty years are going by – I mean it, enjoy the ride every single day!

The biggest change I’ve seen in my career has been way, way too many to count. If I was forced to pick one – fire fighter safety.

Most people don’t know I love my City sports teams almost as much as I love the Fire Department.

If I wasn’t a firefighter life would not be very interesting. I’ve been focused on being a fire fighter since the age of eight, so this had been the only focus for me.

The biggest influence on my life has been my family first. Next, would be the many great fire fighters that I have known of the years. A very special shout out to Alan Brunacini and Bruce Varner (both are brothers from different mothers).

I bring to the table relentless effort. I will be in the game for a while longer and still loving each day of my choose profession.

When it’s all said and done it will be a sad day for me. I hope that I can look back and point to helping both our customers and our members. Please everyone, be safe out there and that starts with clicking your seatbelt.


About the Author

20150527_Rubin Formal PicDennis L. Rubin has been the fire chief of the City of De Pere, Wisconsin since December 2014.

Rubin was appointed by the City’s Police & Fire Commission in December of 2014. De Pere has a population of 25,000 residents. The city is located in the Northeast section of the state. The department serves the citizens and visitors from two fire-rescue station locations.

For more on Chief Rubin’s long and distinguished career in the fire service, visit The Rube.



About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.