Today I had the distinct honor of meeting up with Fireman/Photographer Mike Sanders of Winchester, VA. Mike and I have corresponded over the years and our Fire Photography paths have crossed on numerous occasions. During our most recent conversation Mike mentioned he would be visiting the city on Business, and that a longstanding wish of his has been to take a tour of the historic “Old #1″ downtown.

A single call was made to Lieutenant Rhett Fleitz and the plan was good to go. I met up with Mike at #1 in the late morning and the tour was on. Among many things Mike and I have shared over the years is a passion for the culture, history and traditions of the Fire Service – and his reactions to the myriad of historical characteristics found at #1 further confirmed that. To be honest, it was like two kids in a candy store! I had been in #1 on numerous occasions and couldn’t wait to show Mike everything from the Ticker Tape to the upstairs bunkroom, Chiefs office/bunk area, bells, poles, flooring, ceiling… and hundreds of other pieces I knew he would “get”.

Following our visit to #1 Mike followed me to Station #5 where Rhett was detailed for part of the tour. Both Rhett and Mike have been in contact with one another over the years yet had never met. Both were excited to finally shake hands, meet one another and share some laughs and stories.

When Mike and I initially discussed his visit last week and desire to see #1 I assured him it could happen. How could I do that? I am not employed by Roanoke City Fire & EMS! I guess my answer to that is exactly what I told Mike over the phone… “Mike, trust me. From all I have experienced this is the kind of Department that is proud of its history, and wants to share it with others”.

Although Rhett was my point of contact and primary facilitator for this to happen I have no doubt anyone else would have stepped up to do the same.

At the time of our visit I made a point to show Mike the meticulously packed cross-lays on the reserve rigs being housed there. Reserve rigs! Once again, Mike was impressed.

Special thanks to the crew at #5 for their hospitality during Mike and I’s visit. You all rock.

Mike Sanders has an extensive resume relating to the Fire Service:

– Two books compiling the apparatus history of both Fairfax and Loudoun County’s
– A regular contributor to Fire & EMS Virginia Magazine
– Longstanding member of the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department (Loudoun County, VA):


– A phenomenal Apparatus photographer, who’s work can be found at:

Mike, it was great to meet! Come back soon! You’re always welcome my friend!





Welcome back to RoanokeFire.com. This blog was one of the first of it’s kind on the internet, beginning in March of 2005. The site went silent in 2010, when then editor/author Rhett Fleitz decided to move on to create FireCritic.com.

Please welcome Nate Camfiord as the brand new editor here at The Roanoke Fire Blog. I wish Nate the best in he endeavors as he uncovers the Roanoke Valley and beyond in photos and stories.

Nate has the ability to capture a story within a single photograph. Nate is a photo columnist in the Fire & EMS Virginia Magazine (2011-present). His work (cover photo and images throughout) can also be seen in the new book “25 to Survive” (PennWell Publishing/Fire Engineering). Two videos can be found below that also feature his work.

Here is a little bit about Nate:

After spending most of my life in the DC/Northern Virginia area I relocated to Roanoke in July of 2012. After years as an operational Firefighter/Paramedic I had to “hang up my gear” for the last time in 2011 due to a rare neurological condition. Since then my primary focus (which initially began in 2008) has been Fire Service photography. It’s been on the job training. As time passed I realized my true passion in terms of photography has been to tell “The Fireman’s Story”… in as many ways as possible.

When I moved to Roanoke I was blown away by the Fire Service in this area. I sensed so much pride, commitment, tradition, dedication and brotherhood. As I said to a friend “The Fire Service here in Roanoke is the best kept secret in the state”. I am both honored and humbled that Rhett Fleitz is willing to hand over Roanokefire.com to me. I hope that in time I can earn your trust, develop a positive reputation and tell YOUR story. It’s one that deserves to be told.

Most respectfully, Nate Camfiord

Please do me a favor in welcoming Nate to his new role as editor/author/photographer here at RoanokeFire.com. You can contact Nate at 5bucksamanphoto@gmail.com.

- Rhett Fleitz

Ah….What can we say. I imagine that Battalion Chief Bobby Slayton might take the award for being asked the most times about when he is retiring. I don’t think anyone did it out of rudeness, but moreso to see if he was going for some record.

Chief Slayton was hired on December 6, 1965. Up until his retirement on July 1, 2010 he held the #1 spot on the Seniority list for a long long time!

The truth is that Chief Slayton has been a Battalion Chief since before most of the current department members were hired. He was actually considered a District Chief at the time. Then they changed the title to Battalion Chief.

I had the honor of working for Chief Slayton for several years. He was a great guy!

Here are some photos from his retirement party. He got a little choked up, but wouldn’t you?

I am honored to have been a part of the LODD Funerals for Chief Posey Dillon and Firefighter Danny Altice. The firefighters from Roanoke City who took part did an excellent job with the Honor Guard and many other things we were able to help out with including staffing stations in Franklin County.

Some of you were not able to attend because you were working, others had other obligations.

Thank you to all who helped out in some way. Your professionalism and respect for the families, friends, and fellow brothers were top notch.

Thanks also to Drew Abel who photographed the events with me.

Click on the image below for complete coverage of the events including around 200 photos from the day.


Photo by Drew Abel

Have you ever heard the phrase “Firefighters are their own worst enemies”?

What about “If you don’t have anything good to say…don’t say it”?

Given the latter I rarely listen to…it is still good advice.

As I understand it, someone set down an entire company of firefighters and told them that collective bargaining was bad and that we don’t want it.

Without going into the entire story, I will provide the good parts.

Firefighters were told that the collective bargaining would lead to us starting over at square one. We would lose everything and have to negotiate for everything. That the dreams of huge pay raises and better benefits could not come true with collective bargaining… and that we should not support the collective bargaining bill.

I find this entire story hard to believe. Either way, I figure I will offer up some insight on collective bargaining. Merely my opinion….

For the sake of argument, I will provide some facts.
1. We have not had a raise in 3 years.
2. We cannot lose what we don’t have.
3. Our benefits continue to dwindle or get more expensive.
4. Once they run out of stuff to take a way….it will be our pay.
5. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
6. The collective bargaining process can be very beneficial.
7. Change will not happen over night.
8. It could be years before we see collective bargaining…even if it passes
9. Even if you speak against, aren’t in the Local, or don’t give a shit you will share the bounty of the hard work and dedication it has taken and will take to get to collective bargaining.

Look at it this way… If collective bargaining is passed and we draw up a contract for the same exact stuff we already have (or have left), then we will at least know that we will not lose anything more!

I know money doesn’t go on trees. I understand that if we negotiate for something which will require funding we might have to give something up. That is fine….it is a system of priorities.

For the past 3 years I have worked without a pay raise. Yet groceries, insurance, child care, fuel, and just about everything else has gone up in price.

I am not alone. So many firefighters are in the same place I am. We are waiting for the economy to turn, the City to turn the corner on the economic decline, and someone to begin realizing that the workers need to see a light at the end of this tunnel. So many projects are still underway. Projects which are good for the community and will hopefully have something to do with the turn around. However, we cannot forget about the people who keep the City going day in and day out.

Since I have been with the City (11 years) I have seen our ICMA match go from $15 to $25 dollars…and then quickly to $0. The guys before me saw the typical 2-3% yearly cost of living increase disappear into thin air and rely on merit raises instead.

The cost of health care has skyrocketed since I have been here, not only for the ones working, but for the retirees as well. That status as a retiree is something that many of us are working towards. Unfortunately when we get there insurance will either be unaffordable or unobtainable.

Not to seem totally pessimistic, we did get a substantial raise the first year I was here. It was great for me and long awaited for the guys before me. It was a way of increasing pay because it was way below the National average….and still is.

We have lost engine companies, stations, positions, tuition assistance, ICMA match, and vacation slots to name a few off the top of my head.

We have lost all that and not really asked for a thing. We have fought hard to keep certain things like companies and staffing…and lost them.

The truth of the matter is that the ones who want to and can afford to do this job will continue to do it…even if it kills us. The others will find something better or different.

How is collective bargaining a bad thing? We have to stand up for ourselves, nobody else is going to do it for us.

For one reason or another, I have had a lot of requests to fire this thing up…

I am looking for your input though.

I want to know in the comments if I should spend the time to get this blog up and running again. We have had numerous retirements, people leaving, and other events since I stopped posting. There have been some shady dealings going on, firing, disciplinary action, and a bunch of other stuff. There has been stations closing down, a new station opening, and new firefighters hired.

Just let me know in the comments. Otherwise it will continue on like it has been……..idle.

Plans for the Roanoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade are as follows (subject to change):

Meet at the area of Jefferson and Albemarle to walk in the parade around 10am on Saturday the 13th. We will have the Oren with us.

Wear a Roanoke Fire/EMS Shirt, a Local 1132 shirt, a station shirt, or a St. Pats shirt. Whatever you would like.

The parade starts at 11am.

Afterwards we will meet at a local watering hole!

If you have questions then call or email me. Phone 537-8158. Email firefleitz@gmail.com.

Sorry for the late notice but I didn’t realize plans had not been set!

I hope to see you there.

Check out this photo collage of pictures that Roanoke County put together for the Department. The photos are from the entire year 2009.

The Guns have proven to be the best this year in the 7th Annual Guns N’ Hoses Hockey game in Roanoke. The Police Officers (Guns) shutout the Firefighters (Hoses) in a 6-0 win. This landslide victory is not normal though, in the past the games have ended in a shootout more often than not.

The game is played annually and organized mostly by the Roanoke County Professional Firefighters. The game is played at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Continue reading and view all of the pictures Guns Shutout the Hoses in Roanoke | VAFireNews.com – Fire & EMS News.

Over the years I have heard of so much kitchen table chatter about how to correct the issues, build on excellence, and make Roanoke Fire-EMS better. I thought I would jot down some of the ones which came to mind. Some of these are long term issues, others are immediate changes which could take place. Some cost money, others do not. Some are for the betterment of the City of Roanoke and others are for a simple boost in morale. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Some of these are personal changes, others departmental changes, and yet others are City of Roanoke changes. I am merely pointing out some areas of potential improvement. All in all, I believe that most firefighters are content with the department. However, we do have hopes for the future and we want to make the department the best it can be just as much as the next guy.


  • Honor transfer requests – Allow Captains to offer feedback (yeah or nay) on honoring transfers.
  • Invest in Seniority – Too little regard is given to seniority. Seniority should mean something!
  • Award firefighters for achievements and acts of courage outside of the Star City Award and Union citations and Firefighter of the Year award.
  • Allow us to wash vehicles. This is not a big one for all of us, but it will be a boost for morale. I am  certain of it.

Company Pride

  • Keep moves to a minimum – There is no need to stir up company’s who work well together.
  • Put the power back in the company – Return some of the power to Captains which has been taken away due to micro-managing.
  • Allow company logos, mascots, and patches. This breeds company pride and a sense of camaraderie among the stations.

Dress Code

  • Issue numbered badges – this might give the firefighters a sense of identity within the department.
  • Dress Code – Whether you like it or not, blue t-shirts do not show our professionalism. Bring back the badge shirts more. Badge shirts are professional and should be worn more often.
  • Dress Code – lose the bdu’s and go with straight leg pants…again they look more professional.
  • Invest in clothing that is more durable, looks better, and lasts longer.
  • Develop a replacement plan for our Class A uniforms. Most of our Class A uniforms are hand-me-downs which have been in circulation for 30 years.
  • Issue stove pipe hats for Class A uniforms. While my terminology might be off in identifying them as “stove pipe” hats, issue the ones that many firefighters are purchasing on their own. They look so much better than the “bus driver” hats we have been wearing for the past 30 years.
  • Develop identifiers on our Class A uniforms for seniority.
  • Develop awards and ribbons for certain achievements and/or acts of courage to decorate our Class A uniforms. You may view Houston’s medals here. This link has some decent information on when, where, and how to wear medals.

Pay and Benefits (probably the most important)

  • Make necessary changes to the disability retirement policy. We are willing to give life and limb for our customers, yet we MAY not be afforded the benefit of getting a disability retirement if we are injured.
  • Improve pay – while I understand that we are in a budget crunch, at least identify that our pay scale is in need of a facelift.
  • Cost of living raise – this is probably the easiest sell to the tax payers. Bring back the cost of living raise which City employees lost in the early 90′s. In case anyone is keeping track, we have not had a raise in over 2 years….not the first cent. YET, taxes have increased (depending on where you live), health insurance premiums have gone up, and in general most things cost more and more each year.
  • Pay for instructors – The expectations for free labor is getting out of control. There is no reason why we aren’t paying our instructors to teach recruit school off duty. There is also no reason why firefighters are working for free…Period…Ever. Your knowledge is worth something. Don’t diminish the worth of your knowledge by working for free.
  • Offer a variance for firefighters who obtain the certification level of EMT-Paramedic. Offering them the same as EMT-Intermediate breeds mediocrity. There is no reason why firefighters who are also Paramedics are not monetarily compensated for their schooling, responsibility, and added skill sets.
  • Offer career development pay like the Police Department. Firefighters should be awarded for having a post high school education, special certifications, seniority, and other criteria.
  • Bring back our $25 match for ICMA…from the minute it was taken away.
  • Allow other options for 457 plan outside of ICMA….with the match.

Rank Structure

  • Get rid of the 1st Lieutenant  rank. Offer the Captain rank at 10% over the Lieutenant rank. Place Captains on the right seat of the ladders as well as the engine just like it used to be. The 1st Lieutanant rank serves no purpose. This is proven by the recent promotion of Lieutenants to Captain rank and skipping the 1st Lieutenant rank.
  • Align firefighter pay with patrol officers pay. There is no reason why PD Officers get a step raise upon completion of recruit school and firefighters do not. Pay parity has a lot to do with positive morale.


  • Put more emphasis on the fact that the department is made up of some very knowledgable, experienced, and top notch firefighters.
  • Ensure that the issue with our radios has been fixed or is fixed soon. Just the other day, firefighters in another City had a VERY close call after their MAYDAY was not transmitted over the air due to issues with their radios.
  • Put firefighters through EMT-Intermediate class either in recruit school, on shift, or during a 40 hour work week. Either of the three choices would be better for all parties than the system we have in place now.
  • Create a plan to issue two sets of turnout gear to firefighters. Turnout gear would last longer, and we would be more comfortable post structure fire if we had two sets. Nobody likes responding on EMS calls wearing wet/dirty turnout gear once they return from a structure fire.
  • Issue leather firefighting boots. All of this talk of budget woes and we are still issuing rubber boots that probably only 25% of the department wears. You can go in any station and see a collection of rubber boots on the tops of gear lockers.
  • Promotions – There are issues with promotions that you hear about every year. This year we had issues that I have only heard about once before. The whole situation was very unfortunate. I figure the best way to overcome the challenges with making promotions as fair and equitable as possible is to have a committee come up with recommendations….or just do like Detroit and promote solely on seniority.

The idea for this post is to be constructive, not as a finger pointing session. Please feel free to weigh in on these issues in the comments section or to add your own ideas. There is a very good possibility that I left out some very good ideas.

Tonight, John Mitchell of FireDaily.com and myself will be debuting our first live netcast via Firefighter Netcast. Please stop in and join us live at 8pm EST. Our topic is Line of Duty Deaths (LODD’s). Click the banner below for more information!


This week I was notified by a friend in Richmond of an Ebay auction for some Roanoke City historical artifacts. The pieces were from 1884-1906 and include an image I have never seen before. I will not be sure if the one image is from Roanoke until I get it, but it is said to have been.

The items are coming back to Roanoke via Abingdon. It is safe to say that much of our history has been sold or taken outside of the Roanoke Valley. These items are making their way back!

If you have any artifacts from the following departments or organizations I would love to see them, make copies of them, or possibly copy them: Roanoke Fire Department, Roanoke Fire-EMS Department, Roanoke Life Saving Crew, Williamson Road Life Saving Crew, Hunton Life Saving Crew, Friendship Fire Company, Vigilant Fire Company, Junior Fire Company, Alert Fire Company, Hotel Roanoke Fire Company, Roanoke Fire Company, or others I may have left out.

Now check out the stuff I picked up today on Ebay, then scroll down for the description.

This is the description of the various items:

This is a great and important archive that belonged to one of the first members of Vigilant Steam Fire Company Number 1 from Roanoke, Virginia. It features a great early photo of him in his outfit, other photos of his company, early Ribbons of the company, and booklets from Firemen’s conventions. Everything is in excellent condition. It is really a remarkable early Firemen’s collection. Here is what is in the group:
Great large cabinet card of the Vigilant Steam Fire Co No 1 at a convention in Hampton from the 1880s
Great CDV of a Fireman with the Vigilant No 1 Helmet, Hat and Belt from the 1880s
Vigilant Steam Fire Co No 1 Roanoke, earl Ribbon from 1880s
Roanoke Machine Works Hose Co No 2 Ribbon from July 4, 1885
The Advance Official Program for the 26th Annual Convention of the Virginia State Firemen’s Association from 1912
Official Program for the 9th Annual Convention for the National Firemen’s Association held in Roanoke from 1906
Nice Cabinet Card of a group of Firemen from the early 1900s

This past year has been a roller coaster for Roanoke’s Bravest! I have not been immune to what is going on either. We have seen a lot of stuff happen over the past 12 months and I imagine we have more in store for us in the future.

One thing is for certain…we are stronger when we are together. That statement is testament to when we have banded together as well as when we should have but didn’t.

Most of all, thanks to my Brother and Sister Firefighters in Salem, Vinton, and Roanoke County. You all were there when we needed you and you stepped up to help. We are forever indebted. Should the occasion rise when you need us, we will be there.

This past year, the Roanoke Fire Blog had 129,000 pageviews and 62,000 visitors. That is 30,000 more than the year before….nobody really reads this stuff do they?

You never know what 2010 holds…

Here are the most read articles/posts from 2009

10. House Fire on 18th Street SE

9. Budget Woes, Lost Incentives, and Retirements

8. Policeman vs Fireman pt. 11

7. Roanoke Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Images

6. Suspended Ceiling Class and Lightweight Truss Construction

5. Aerial Ladder Training at Station 13Roanoke Station 13 C Shift trained on Ladder 13 the other day. The idea for training came from VentEnterSearch.com. If you have not viewed the website, it is a must read. Both myself and Captain Willie Wines Jr. have had articles posted on the site and have utilized the site for training and other ideas. The collaboration of so many great ladder draggers has proved to be very insightful for many things that I had not even thought of before. Even though I am not a ladder dragger, I have been able to utilize ideas for basic firefighting as well as hone my knowledge of truck work. After all, I have to be able to ride the truck just as well as the engine. In addition, how often do you find hose jockeys doing truck work in Roanoke due to our short staffing on our ladder trucks.

4. Battalion Chief Audie Ferris RetiresBattalion Chief Audie Ferris retired on April 8th after working for the Roanoke Fire Department and Roanoke Fire EMS Department for 28 years. Ferris was hired on November 20, 1980 and was promoted to Battalion Chief in 1999 if my memory serves me correctly. His most recent assignment has been BC of Southside A-Shift as well as being in charge of HTR and the Swift Water Rescue Team.

3. “The Ocho” – a new twist on an Old Station - Big things are in the works for Station 8, or as they are calling it now “The Ocho”. As the story is unravelling, the details are slowly seeping out. Everyone knows that Medic 8 was supposed to go in service in July after the 6 positions are moved back within City limits from Clearbrook (County #7).  What was unforseen was the quick scramble to get the medic truck in service by next Tuesday. It is unclear exactly why we didn’t requisition a new medic unit and furnish it with new equipment. Instead, medic 8 will  be using Reserve 904 with a full supply of extra equipment. The only thing I have heard is that Roanoke City Manager Burcham wants it in service by Tuesday.

2. If you want to be a clown… – Chief Billy ObenchainTo say that he was the most beloved firefighter would be a gross understatement. He was known and loved by so many. Not just for his leadership and managerial qualities as a Chief but also because he was a great firefighter. He served in many roles and ranks within the Roanoke Fire Department and later the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. His tenure as Battalion Chief might have been shorter and he might have continued climbing the ranks had he not become ill. You never know, he might have become a Deputy Chief or even Chief of the Department.

Other post related to Billy’s death: Chief Obenchain is Laid to Rest

1.Captain Chris Brown - It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you of the passing of Captain Chris Brown. Chris was hired on August 2, 1994 and was the Captain at Station 1 on C-Shift. He was a second generation firefighter. His brother Mark is the Lt. on Engine 5 C-Shift and his father (deceased) retired from the department as a firefighter. His mother retired from the Roanoke City Occupational Health Clinic as an RN. Needless to say, his family has dedicated their lives to the City of Roanoke.

Other post related to Chris’ death: Final Alarm – Captain Chris Brown

There is a contest going on over at The Fire Critic for the bragging rights for who the Best of the Best is. The Fire/EMS Blog of the Year 2009 contest began today. Check it out and be sure to nominate a blog if you want. You can nominate via twitter, email, or contact page.

Be sure to spread the word as well!

All the information you need is found here

Battalion Chief Billy Obenchain was laid to rest today.

As the Preacher said in the service….Billy was a firefighter….Truer words have not been spoken.

All of those who had a part in the service should be proud of a send-off worthy of a hero.

I think we did an excellent job paying a special tribute to an extraordinary guy…Battalion Chief Billy Obenchain.

The funeral and interment were outstanding. I do not know that anyone could have spoke better about Billy than Jeremy, his oldest son, did.

I am sure that Mike will post pictures over at RoanokeFirefighters.com…mine are below. If you would like a full size image, please email me at firefleitz@gmail.com and I will send it. Let me know which picture by picture name!

Click through the images twice to see the full size.

bobenchain300Battalion Chief William E. Obenchain Jr.

Please read through this entire post to learn about Billy, view pictures, and see past articles. The reference in the title of this post will be recognized by many, but if you don’t get it you will if you read this article all the way to the bottom!

If there are updates to this post I will let you know!
Funeral and visitation arrangements for Billy Obenchain are: visitation Sunday December 27 from 1-4 and 6-9 at Oakeys in Vinton, Funeral will be Monday December 28 at 11am at Vinton Baptist Church.

Keep up with more news on Engine 9 Blog

A true hero died today! Retired Battalion Chief William E. Obenchain Jr. passed away at his home. Chief had suffered for years with Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma. Recently he began battling leukemia. He never complained.

Billy’s last assignment was Northside Battalion Chief on C-Shift. He was hired on November 9, 1981.

To say that he was the most beloved firefighter would be a gross understatement. He was known and loved by so many. Not just for his leadership and managerial qualities as a Chief but also because he was a great firefighter. He served in many roles and ranks within the Roanoke Fire Department and later the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. His tenure as Battalion Chief might have been shorter and he might have continued climbing the ranks had he not become ill. You never know, he might have become a Deputy Chief or even Chief of the Department.


Billy wanted a photo of the entire Battalion. His firefighters made it happen. Kenny Walker has a turnout coat covering his Hawaiian shirt (he came in off of vacation) and I missed it because I was on ARFF. The photos are by Holly Lipes. View more of her photos online here.

Billy is widely known by the “younger” generation coming into the fire service for his infamous speech given at a live burn exercise. Since, the speech has been recited at each recruit school in Roanoke City. The speech can be viewed in a previous article published as a part of this post located at the bottom of this post.

Billy wasn’t ONLY a firefighter. Actually, Billy was a husband, father, brother, son, uncle, grandfather, and friend. He drew much of his strength in the last several years from his grandson Hunter. It was enough for me to see him light up when you asked about Hunter.

Billy’s brother, Randy, was also a firefighter in Roanoke City. He retired in 2005 at the rank of Lieutenant. Billy’s son ,Zak, is a firefighter at station 2 C-shift.

He was a long standing Council Member for the town of Vinton. His current term ending 6/30/2010. Actually, Chief got his start as a volunteer for the Vinton Volunteer Fire Department back in the day. He is a life member.

His wife Karen has been a rock during the last many years of Billy traveling to Duke for treatments. Her caring of Billy and watching over him while he suffered has been a testament of their love for one another.

Needless to say that Billy’s family extends a lot farther than his niche in how you may know him. Even in the fire service, his reputation spread like wildfire. Chief was one of the guys you looked up to for how to do things like respect others, treat others well, and give each other a good ribbing. Oh yeah…Billy enjoyed having fun. Working with the likes of Louie Kennett, Oscar Smith, John Sweeney, and Billy you were not given much room for error. Indeed he worked around some great guys! Some guys who will be forever enshrined in the history of Firefighting in Roanoke by the stories they are attached to.

Billy Obenchain is one of those names which will remain in stories, history, and lessons which new firefighters will learn about in future generations. Roanoke has some of the best firefighters in the World. Most of them are not easily impressible. Needless to say, when Billy walked in the room people gathered to hear what he had to say. We wanted to learn…we needed to learn…

If there were a Roanoke Hall of Flame, Chief Obenchain would be on the top of the list!

No matter what…


A Retirement Dinner for a heroes hero

Roanoke City Retires a Hero

Roanoke Fire-EMS Battalion Chief Retires

WEO T-shirts

If you Don’t Know Well Now You Know

Lunch at 9 with Billy Obenchain

The following was an original article written by me and posted on VAFireNews.com. The article was deleted when VAFireNews.com was redesigned in Nov. 2008. On one occasion in the summer of 2009, Billy found out about this article and the following article. I got him copies of both.This article was originally written on November 11, 2006.

A Retirement Dinner for a Heroes Hero

Story and Pictures By Rhett Fleitz

PICT5048Last night, over 100 firefighters, friends, and family members of Retiring Battalion Chief Billy Obenchain packed the Roanoke Fire Fighters Association Union Hall to celebrate the career of their Brother. Billy Obenchain has been suffering from Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma, and has decided to retire after being off of work for several months battling the disease. Prior to Billy going on sick leave, he was able to battle the disease and work, while going to Duke for treatments on his days off.

Captain Anthony Wallace and the rest of his firefighters from Station 9 C-shift hosted the evening featuring a catered dinner from J.J. Price (4A) and Trung Nguyen.

Soon after Billy arrived, Captain Charlie Fochtman began the evening with a heartfelt speech which left very few dry eyes. Billy responded by telling the crowded Hall that “I didn’t make me, you made me” a humble response to the outpouring of support and recognition for a man who so many look up to. Billy’s Wife, Son, and daughter in law were right by his side. Gary Huff, a Battalion Chief in Roanoke County and longtime friend of Billy, and his wife attended as well.

Some of the on-duty Firefighters were able to stop by and enjoy dinner as well. The on-duty crews rotated throughout the evening so that as many Companies could attend as possible, while still keeping the City protected.

Billy was also given some very special gifts during the evening. Firefighters got him a replica brass bugle, reminiscent of the beginning of the Roanoke Fire Department 125 years ago. Billy was also presented with a frame of his helmet shield, Roanoke Fire-EMS patch, and the name plate and “Battalion Chief” off of his turnout gear. Firefighters had a cake made which was a replica of his helmet.

This next article, again in its entirety, was also removed when VAFireNews.com was redesigned. The story was about Billy retiring and was published on October 8th 2006.

Roanoke City Retires an Icon

By Rhett Fleitz

bobenchain300Yesterday morning the firefighters of Roanoke City’s Northside C-Shift Battalion learned that their beloved Battalion Chief was retiring. Battalion Chief William “Billy” Obenchain announced that he will be retiring from the job he loved. Billy stated “I wanted to be here a long time because I enjoyed coming to work”. Billy has been battling Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma for several years and has been unable to work for the past several months due to the illness. For years, his love of the job was contagious among his subordinates and often brought out the best in his firefighters.

In a cluster meeting of several companies, Billy said “There is nothing like what is in this room next to your Families and God”. He felt his most important goal was to return each of his firefighters home the following morning just as they had come to work.

To say that Billy is the most respected member of the Roanoke City Fire-EMS Department would be an understatement. Ever since he joined the Department in November of 1981, he knew the importance of the Brotherhood of Firefighting. He set the bar high and ensured that his men knew their job and would perform under any circumstances. He demanded his firefighters to continue learning throughout their careers, and challenged them every day.

Billy hopes that the future firefighters of Roanoke City will “learn the spirit of the job and the spirit of love for one another” just as he made sure he never lost sight of. Billy felt the most important part of being a firefighter is taking care of each other.

Randy Obenchain, Billy’s brother, drove the two around from station to station as they delivered the sorely anticipated news. Randy retired last November after 27 years in the department. He sat quiet as Billy spoke about leaving the department he loved in less then ideal circumstances. Much like Billy’s battle with his illness, delivering the news was not easy to do. Battling through tears, Billy expressed his love for the job.

Billy’s firefighters, especially his crew at station #2, had witnessed his quiet suffering over the past several years while he remained working, hoping to beat the illness and keep doing the job he loved.

The firefighters of Roanoke City have championed Billy’s cause and began raising money for research of Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma. A t-shirt has been marketed with a tribute to the beloved Chief. The back of the shirt reads:

If you want to be a clown,
you’d better be lookin’ for a circus.
If you’re lookin’ for a free ride,
here’s a dollar; call a cab.
If you want to be a “Showman”,
Vegas will welcome you with open arms.
If fulfillment of an ego is high on your
priority list, might I suggest Hollywood.
And if you want to be a millionaire,
by all means, this ain’t for you.
But, if you don’t mind hard work, sweating in
freezing weather, getting back less than half of
what you give, and finding your name at the
bottom of your own priority list,
then stick around!
I believe you could be a FIREFIGHTER

Battalion Chief William “Billy” Obenchain

This poem, read at the beginning of each Roanoke City Recruit School, is the unofficial creed of the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. Billy wrote it during a live fire training exercise in Roanoke several years ago. If you would like to purchase a t-shirt, please contact Richard Lipes at Rlipes@msn.com.

Update: Chief Obenchain passed away this morning. I am working on a more in depth post, please let me know if you have anything to add.

Billy Obenchain, a retired Roanoke City Battalion Chief, is in need of your prayers. Today he was put on hospice care at his home. Chief has been battling cancer for many years and was forced to retire due to the illness. He has maintained a fairly active lifestyle thanks to his grandson Hunter all the while undergoing in-depth treatments for his disease.

Please pray for Billy and his family during this difficult time.

Chief’s son Jeremy is being flown in this evening to be with the family.

God Bless