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.

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