Memoir of a Fire Chief

About Memoir of a Fire Chief

“The best managers are visionaries. They manage for the future instead of reacting to it on arrival. The best commanders managed emergencies that way as well.”

The following table of contents, excerpt, and quotes from Memoir of a Fire Chief demonstrate the main themes and information in the memoir beyond fire department stories.  Paying attention and appearance versus substance are reoccurring themes.


  1. Career Search
  2. Search Over
  3. Get Low and Go
  4. Verbal Volleyball
  5. Remain Calm
  6. Pole-Position Domination
  7. Picking Up Horses
  8. Bloody Spot on the Chicken Theory
  9. Public Servant Rivalry
  10. Bulimia
  11. Bad Management, Strong Union
  12. Not What, Rather How
  13. I Love a Parade
  14. Musical Notes
  15. Pass Blame, Accept Credit
  16. Customer Service
  17. A Change Is Coming
  18. Safety First, Last, Always
  19. Safety, a Matter of Luck?
  20. Managing Chaos
  21. Free Thoughts, Free Speech
  22. Making People Brand-New
  23. Substance vs. Appearance
  24. Improvise, Adapt
  25. Search Over
  26. You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Color
  27. We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
  28. A Horse Too Far
  29. The Alpha-Dog Syndrome
  30. Pranking Rules
  31. Mission Accomplished
  32. Down Memory Lane
  33. The Kansas Kid
  34. Patience/Adaptation

This was the first multiple alarm fire shortly after my appointment as fire chief. Lightning struck the clock tower on top of old city hall. Firefighter Maxi Winsor on top of the 100 foot ladder directed water onto the roof where burning embers fell. Also seen in the picture, is a hose line pulled through a top story window and used to extinguish the fire from inside. Simultaneously, a truck company spread tarps at the tower’s inside base, down a stairway to an elevator shaft, and caught all interior water. The water was pumped out of the shaft with zero interior water damage. 



Career Search

 In June of 1967, I joined the Wichita Fire Department. Throughout my career I never understood people who ran past me on their way out of a burning building as I ran inside. Didn’t they understand how they’d just left danger and an accompanying adrenaline rush? Crawling with a hose line in total darkness under extreme stress while controlling one’s inner physiological and mental reactions was an experience I wouldn’t miss. A chance for a possible lifesaving rescue always existed. The Holy Grail, that is, a rescue, validated one’s personal and professional worth in society.

I often expressed that worth in answer to the common question: “What do you do?”

“Why, I fight fire, save lives and property. What do you do?” That greeting worked equally well with condescending people and interesting women.

As a young firefighter, I concentrated on the Holy Grail. My duty and obligation later shifted from saving citizens’ lives to saving the hero firefighters’ lives. By focusing on saving firefighters’ lives, my administration ended up saving more citizens’ lives as well.

Quotes from Memoir of a Fire Chief

 “The purpose of education isn’t to teach what to think, rather how to think.”

“Only one person at a time should worry over something, and that should be the one who can do something about it.”

 “It’s a whole lot easier to slow people down than make them giddyup.”

 “Free thoughts and speech could lead to innovation, an enemy of the status quo.”

 “Developing subordinates who knew what to think was easy. Developing subordinates who knew how to think required more effort but yielded better long-term results.”

 “I learned the more I concentrated on someone’s appearance, the further I moved from their recognizable substance.”