Ode to an officer and a gentleman

Today I learned of the passing of a former friend and colleague from my days with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire and EMS Department, Lieutenant (Ret.) Bobby “Pop” Knight. To say “Pop” was the last of dying breed would qualify as the understatement of the year.

Bobby Knight picked up the sobriquet of “Pop” by virtue of being the eldest member of his Recruit School (i.e., entry-level training academy) for what was then Chesterfield Fire Department. That was a few years before I would attend my own Recruit School (#12) in the summer of 1982 and by then everybody knew him as “Pop” Knight. I’m pretty sure that if someone had called out to him, “Hey, Bobby Knight!” he probably wouldn’t have answered at first.

“Smitty,” “Pop,” and Kirk on the occasion of “Pop’s” 80th birthday.

Ask anyone who worked with “Pop”, and they’d tell you he was just the best co-worker or supervisor they’d worked with. Two of my classmates from Recruit School #12, Kirk Seither and Stuart “Smitty” Smith, were assigned to the newly opened Engine #14 with “Pop” as their Sergeant (Our company officer rank at the time, later reclassified as lieutenant) and they absolutely loved him.

That tells you right there what kind of respect “Pop’s” bosses had for him as they assigned him to a new station AND gave him two probationary firefighters, aka, rookies, to lead, guide, and direct through their probationary period. Oh, and Engine 14 quickly became one of the busiest fire companies in Chesterfield County.

My own direct interaction with “Pop” came when I was promoted to the rank of battalion chief and assigned to “A” Shift, 2nd battalion which included Engine 14. In fact, Station 14 was the Headquarters Station for the 2nd Battalion.

Long before then, Station 14 had added Truck Company 14 and “Pop” moved across the apparatus bay to become the company officer for that new truck company. So, when I moved into Station 14 as the battalion chief “Pop” had already had a long tenure as the CO of Truck 14.

Shortly after taking my new assignment, I sat down with “Pop” as I was going to do with all the company officers in my battalion to have a conversation about what they could expect from me and what I would be expecting from them. This conversation would show me just what an officer and a gentleman looks like, talks like, and acts like.

“Pop” said, “Chief, I’m an old dog and I’m not sure I’m up to learning new tricks. I’m no spring chicken, that’s for sure, and I don’t think I’ve got the energy and drive to do the things as a company officer that you’re expecting.”

Now “Pop” may have had a few years on all of us, but he was still a “lean, mean, fighting machine!” (Apologies to Bill Murray and the cast of the movie “Stripes”). So, I asked him, “What can I do for you?” He said, “Transfer me to Station 8 and give me a break.” Station 8, in the far south end of Chesterfield County, had an engine company and an ambulance and a much lower number of calls for service as opposed to Truck 14, one of two truck companies in south end of the county.

I couldn’t make that a straight transfer on “A” because I already had a good leader down there, Lt. Bruce Simmons, and I didn’t want to disrupt the good work he was doing with his crew, which at the time had two women—one a probationary firefighter—the first station in Chesterfield County to have two women on the same shift (And that’s another story).

So, I collaborated with my boss and worked out a solution that had “Pop” going to Station 8 on “C” Shift. He was happy going to a station with a slower pace and I was happy that I could make that happen for a good company officer, and a finer human being, in the twilight of his career.

In memory of Lt. (Ret.) Bobby “Pop” Knight, an officer and a gentleman. RIP

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 makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].