Rapid Fire

Turning the Table on Retired Battalion FDNY Chief Bob Keys

January 28, 2021 Fire-Dex Season 1 Episode 6
Rapid Fire
Turning the Table on Retired Battalion FDNY Chief Bob Keys
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

About This Episode: 

Get a behind the scenes look into Chief Keys’ robust career as Allen Rom takes the lead as host while the Chief shares his experiences becoming a firefighter, completing his first engine run, and moving up the ladder in FDNY. 

Bios:

Chief Keys completed a total of 31 years of service, beginning as a firefighter for a high volume station, Engine 48, in the Bronx. As a Captain and Lieutenant, he served in many areas of NYC including Midtown Manhattan. Soon after earning a promotion to Battalion Chief, he was assigned to Battalion 39 in East New York Brooklyn. Toward the end of his career he was asked to become the Chief-in-Charge of their Research and Development Unit where he learned how new innovations are tested and introduced into the fire service. Chief Keys holds a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Hofstra University.

Allen Rom joined the sales team at Fire-Dex in 2000 before transitioning to METRO Account Manager in 2015 and eventually worked his way up to Director of METRO & International Sales in 2019. His expertise is in building relationships with Fire Departments staffed with over 350 personnel and managing all international accounts. Allen holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Ashland College and has years of experience in sales, management and customer relations.


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S1 E6 Turning the Table on Bob Keys

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Rapid Fire, a podcast hosted by Fire-Dex, dedicated to sharing best practices and lessons learned in hopes of making firefighting a little bit safer. I'm your host, Bob Keys, Retired Battalion Chief from FDNY.  We're fortunate to be joined today by Alan Rom, Director of Metro and International Sales for Fire-Dex.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:00:23] Thank you, Bob. I appreciate it. After five episodes with chief keys, we're going to turn the table. Let's learn some more about chief and have some fun. I've had the privilege of working with Bob's for the last six years at fire decks. Bob, tell the audience a little bit more about yourself, where you grew up. Let's get started. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:00:42] Well, I have to first admit, this is probably the least favorite topic for me to talk about myself. But I've had my arm twisted enough to be convinced that we'll give this a try. 

I'll start off by saying that I grew up on Long Island, about 10 miles East of Queens, the New York city border in a town called Westbury. It was in the center of Nasser County, the first County outside of New York and it is part of Long Island.  And being that we lived on an Island, my parents were determined that my brothers and sister all learned how to swim and had to learn the rules of boating. I'm really grateful for that because it's made a world of difference for me and being able to not only work out with a body that's been beat up pretty good from 31 years of firefighting and quite a few years playing football and lacrosse, and then dealing with trying to run a marathon.

Swimming seems to be one of my releases and ability to work out with low impact and any chance I get. I'll go anytime, anywhere.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:01:40] Bob, how did you get interested in the fire service? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:01:42] That's a good story. Most firefighters I know in FDNY were convinced by an uncle, a grandparent, a father, somebody that they knew, a neighbor, who was part of the FDNY.

Why for me, it was totally different. Nobody in my family had ever been a firefighter, but one of my good buddies on the high school lacrosse and football team happened to live next door to the volunteer fire chief. And one summer, while we were hanging out, he, uh, Told Dave and I, that, and he runs come in, we could ride along with him.

And that was the thrill of every teenage kid to be able to ride in a fire truck or fire chief's car, lights and sirens and responsed. So, we instantly got very interested in learning as much as we could about our local volunteer fire department and bought our scanners, and started listening in for calls to come in and learning the nomenclature.

So that really tweaked my interest. So much so that when I turned 18, my senior year in high school, I was eligible to join the volunteer fire department. And so I did. And then February of my senior year, I was able to respond to fires while still in high school. It was a huge thrill, something I never thought I'd be really that interested in, but certainly tweaked my interest.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:02:47] Bob, did you pursue fire immediately after high school or did you do something else? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:02:52] Oh, I had an opportunity to be able to stay home during college. I attended Hofstra University, which was about five miles from home. And I was able to stay in the volunteer fire department at the same time. 

I chose Hofstra because they all need some money to play football and they also had a great lacrosse team. I really wanted to play lacrosse, but in the end it turned out that football was paying the tuition and you don't get paid to be a volunteer fireman, so I had to come up with something. Financial decisions there. Worked out great. We had a great senior year at Hofstra, my team went eight and two. Really great experience.

Only played lacrosse for a couple of years there, but right before I started going to school at Hofstra, all the volunteer firemen were taking the FDNY exam. This would be in the Fall of 1977 and they tried hard to talk me into getting prepared and going to school for it and doing the prep classes. But, I told them "Naw, I'm going to Hofstra, going to study Accounting.  I don't, I don't think being a firefighter is, is, uh, in for me, but peer pressure, made me give in, much like doing this interview, and I went along with my friends and we all took the FDNY exam. 

Well, it turns out there was a hiring freeze for the next three years, and in that time, while I was in college I learned I really hate accounting. It was so boring and being a volunteer firefighter was so exciting. 

Soon after I graduated in 1981, because I hadn't really studied it prepared for the FDNY exam, my number was pretty low on the list, but they had gone through such rapid hiring because it'd been a hiring freeze for three years, they quickly got to my number.  And I graduated from college in May and then was hired by FDNY in November of '81 and never looked back on that accounting career because being a firefighter at FDNY was an amazing thrill. It was just a dream come true. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:04:39] Some of your buddies from the high school volunteer program where they already in the fire service or they take a different path? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:04:46] Um, most of them came from a different path, including my two brothers,  Brendan and Tim. My older brother, Brendan, and younger brother, Tim both joined the volunteer fire department and then both actually we're hired by FDNY a few years after me in the very same probationary firefighter class, probie class.

Most of the guys that I came on the fire department with had some other relative that had talked them into it. The volunteer firefighters, similarly too, had some relative or neighbor that talked them into getting involved in fire service.

So it's definitely a job that everybody dreams of, but until you learn all the details; the dangers, the dedication, the commitment and the lifestyle. Once you get to know that, once you live that, the reward is amazing! 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:05:32] Chief, tell us a little bit about the Fall of '81. What a FDNY recruit class was like. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:05:38] Well, first off, you know, firefighters today recruit class is about six months long. Well, 1981 our probie school, probationary firefighter school, was only six weeks long. It was just the basics. You learn a lot about knots and ropes, hoses, forceable entry, and not a heck of a lot more. 

We did not do EMS when I first came on in 1981. And so, much of the curriculum that we see today in pretty much all Probie or Rookie schools did not exist at that time.

So, um, the rest of the training that you really needed happened after you got to your fire station. And for me, that was Christmas Day, 1981 was my very first day. I walked into an engine 48 and opened up a whole new chapter of my life, developing a whole new family and learning a lot from very diverse group of fantastic people.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:06:32] Chief, what kind of PPE were you given after the recruit class? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:06:35] So at the time, we were wearing three quarter length coats that were made of either canvas or neoprene, a kind of impregnated canvas. Nomex® was also in there, but not as popular at the time. We wore those pull-up boots that came up to mid thigh. We were wearing canvas work gloves, or the orange bubble gloves that were popular at the time. Waterproof.

Hoods didn't exist. Ear flaps didn't come out of your helmet. And, um, we got burned more often than firefighters do now because we were unprotected in the face and neck area. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:07:08] Your first assignment eninge 48. Whereabouts in the New York City boroughs, is that located? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:07:13] So it was in the Fordham section of the Bronx, very busy area, a lot of crime, a lot of drugs, unfortunately, some tough quality of life issues that we had to see, but we were extremely busy. We were the busiest engine company in New York City in 1982 and 83; doing over 7,000 runs and that was without EMS. We did 7,000 runs of fires and also a lot of false alarms. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:07:40] What was the SCBA usage at the time in the big city, U S Fire Servi ce?

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:07:45] SCBAs had just been rolled out. So most of the senior firefighters had never, ever used one. And so, as we know in the fire service, there's only two things that firefighters hate. It's change and the way things are. So, so we, uh, Did not see a big embrace, of SCBA usage and matter of fact, I was taught by the senior members when we get into the fire "save that air, you might need it later on". So we learned how much smoke we could take, unfortunately, and gratefully that mindset has changed; done a 180 degree and now we're realizing just how dangerous that smoke is to firemen. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:08:19] Bob, I know a lot of firefighters choose to be firefighters throughout their entire career, either because that's what they choose to do, or a lot of them have side jobs of a contractor and other things like that. But you chose to go the Officer route eventually. How did that come about? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:08:34] Well, we had great leadership in Engine 48 and Latter 56, pretty much all of our lieutenants in both of our captains,  tom Kennedy and Nick Visconti, were big students of the fire department. They encouraged all of us young firefighters to get into the books to get into the job, learn everything you could about it and I took their leadership and their advice. 

I guess I had an advantage having just graduated from college, sitting down and reading books was not as difficult for me as it was for some other really great firefighters that just had no patience for sitting and reading a book. 

A lot of the material we had to study for a promotion at FDNY was very complex and difficult for all of us to understand. Never studied leadership or management, building codes, engineering, we just were firefighters. And so that, just I guess came easier to me and I was dedicated and loved the job and really wanted to be more and more of a, a leader. I guess that's part of my personality.

And so, uh, buckled down and had to take a whole bunch of tests. 

Unfortunately, my very first lieutenant's exam was compromised. Some of the. Test had leaked the answers. And six months later we were told, okay, the test is thrown out, start all over again. And I had been studying for two years for that exam.

We wound up doing okay. In the, in the makeup exam, we ended up getting promoted to Lieutenant in 1990. Chief Vinnie Dunn was probably the best influence. He was a Division Commander in our and 48, 56's quarters and he would tell us the best job in the fire department as firefighter. The second best job is Deputy Chief.

So if you're going to study for anything, go all the way to Deputy Chief. I almost made it there, but I, uh, I did use his motivation, his words, as encouragement and decided to keep on studying.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:10:28] Bob at that time, uh, when you were promoted, did you have to move buroughs? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:10:33] Yeah, so FDNY has a unique, rule. In the City,  New York is made up of five counties or boroughs as we call them and the rules there are when you get promoted, you need to leave the borough that you were in. 

The mindset is that managing your peers is harder than managing people that you don't know just yet. And so anytime you got promoted, you had to leave the borough. I was sent from the Bronx to Midtown Manhattan. And, I was fortunate enough that Chief Dunn had also been transferred from the Bronx to Manhattan and he arranged for me to be assigned again to the very same station where he was working out of; Engine 1, Ladder 24 on 31st Street in Midtown Manhattan, between 6th &7th Avenue, right across the street from Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, around the corner from the Empire State Building, in a very congested, very busy area, that had lots of challenges. But, probably the greatest benefit there was, it was right across the street from St. Francis church where the fire department, Chaplain, Michael Judge lived and parked his car in quarters with us. And pretty much every night, I was on as a new Lieutenan, he would come and offer some encouragement, words of wisdom, and became a fast friend and mentor. 

He was the first person to die of FDNY on 911.

And gosh, he's probably the most missed person in my life. He was a great leader and a great motivator. His favorite line to me was, "If you really want to make God laugh, tell him what you have to do tomorrow, because you just don't know". And boy was he right? 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:12:13] Big change going from the Bronx to Midtown Manhattan, a very different firefighting scenario. How was that adjustment? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:12:21] Yeah, they called Midtown, the electronic ghetto. In the Bronx, we spent a lot of time chasing down, uh, DRPs, the Discretionary Response Box, the old Morse Code manual friends middle, uh, any person on the street corner could just reach up, grab the handle, pull it down and we would turn out a whole first alarm assignment. It kind of became the entertainment for the local neighborhood kids and so we were resetting those boxes. Oh, 10 or 20 times a day.

Uh, in Manhattan, it was called the electronic ghetto because it was the same problem, only these were high rise building smoke detectors, which were problematic and were new and had lots of false alarms with them.

In Midtown Manhattan, we would chase around those same automatic alarms have lots of false alarms also, but occasionally you would wind up showing up for a routine alarm and pull up and see smoke or fire pushing out of a 10th or 20th or 30th story window. So it had its own challenges, especially forcable entry into a building that's locked up tight, like a high rise building was a big challenge.

I learned so much about forcible entry from the guys on Ladder 24. Uh, back in the '90s, 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:13:30] I've seen some of those big office buildings, particularly during the '90s, when I did some work in Manhattan, you guys rolling up at midnight for a potential false alarm. How do you, how did you enter the building?  Cause I'm sure the owners and property managers didn't, once you busted down all that beautiful glass on the ground level. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:13:45] Right. So that's an interesting, very good question, Allen. 

Because one of my first days, as a Lieutenant in Midtown Manhattan, we rolled up to just that kind of scenario where there's alarm ringing on the 23rd floor and we can't get in the building. And it's just the engine only response. So I had to make a call. And so I had to turn to the probie who had been working there for quite a while and say, what do we do on this? So I really didn't have good judgment at the point, just no experience. He said, "let's just wait a few minutes. The runners will show up".  I said, "the runners?". I've never heard of that term. 

Well, it seems that there's a whole cottage industry in Midtown Manhattan, at that time, where owners of these buildings, so that the fire department wouldn't break down front door, had guys that would respond in scooters or on bicycles with the keys to the front door.

They got the alarm before we got the alarm and oftentimes they would be on scene to unlock the door . Well sure enough, in this instance, I waited a minute and a guy came racing down the block on a scooter and unlock the door for us to get in and we were able to reset the alarm, but totally new experience for me as a young officer.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:14:50] Very good. 

I think you told me in 1995, you promoted to Captain. What was PPE like at '95 and where did you get assigned? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:14:58] So I was, again, once you get promoted, you have to leave the borough. I was sent out to Queens. Spent the Winter 94, as Captain Engine 288 and then in the Summer of '95. I was Captain of Engine 289.

These were all temporary assignments where the previous Captain had either retired, promoted, or transferred in '95. That was the year that we got bunker gear. Fortunately, we had had a tragedy in '94 with three firefighters were killed, burned in a flashover and that convinced the city, that it was time for us to move to a, a two piece of ensemble to better protect our legs and our whole body.

So the summer of '95, we got bunker gear for the first time. And man, as fate would have it, it was the hottest summer on record for the first time ever we experienced 115 degree heat. And here we are in this thermally protective outfit that we had never experienced. It was extremely challenging. We wound up having to relieve companies that were only on scene for 10, 15 minutes at a time.

And because of the heat, the problem of heat exhaustion was something new to us and we manage that. But, uh, I think for the better firefighters are much better protected in a two piece ensemble that we're wearing to this day. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:16:14] Again, you experienced a big change in the response zone. I mean, Queens at the time, was there  still some open land and some Park land and maybe some farms in the Queens? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:16:25] No, no. Although there was probably 50 years before that. But no, most at Queens was residential. Uh, they would had, did have some fireproof apartment buildings, some big business districts, like in Jamaica, Corona, and those had their busy challenges. Good fire duty there.

But now Queens is mostly residential and is now even getting more and more into high rise, residential and high rise commercial buildings, especially in the western part of Queens. But I was fortunate after a year in Queens, my Captain from 24 truck, Jack McDonald, took a job in the Fire Officer's Union. And so his spot was temporarily open. He had asked me to come back in and take his place. And so I did it. It was a great pleasure to go back to the same place that I was Lieutenant and be able to work with the same guys. Knowing the district and the excitements and challenges. It was a, well, that was a pleasure to go back and be the Captain on 24 truck.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:17:20] Let's divert here just a little bit. Talk a little bit about residency requirements at that time. Obviously New York City. How did, how did you get to work every day?

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:17:29] Well, when I worked in Midtown Manhattan it was fantastic. I could take the Long Island Railroad from my hometown in Huntington, hop on the train, and the last stop was Penn Station, which was right across the street from engine 1, ladder 24. I had, no worries about,, "should I get off here and find a better way?" when traffic builds up.  Just in your seat, read a book or fell asleep.

And the best pleasure there was at the end of the 24 as we're heading home at night. They really encourage you to take along a $4 ice cold beer. The vendors were selling out of these big Plexiglas stores as we're getting onto the train for a good way to wind down. 

So back in those days, firefighters in FDNY get assigned two day tours, two 9 hour day tours, followed by two days off and then two 15 hour night tours followed by three days off.

Well, to cut down on the commute, back and forth. When you were working at night, we would swap one of your nights for one of somebody else's days. And so we would develop our own 24 hour work schedule. We did 24 hours on and 72 hours off every sixth cycle. We got an extra 24 hours off. So we wound up only if you worked straight 24 hours without overtime, you only had to go to work seven times a month and that really helped overcome the challenges of dealing with traffic and sitting here. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:18:45] Very good. Thanks for clarifying that, Bob. So next up on the promotion chart is the Battalion Chief's test. Tell me about studying for that and how many people take an FDNY Battalion Chief's test? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:18:55] So I'll say this, my mentor Chief Vinnie Donn did sa, " as much as you study for Lieutenant study, half that much for Captain, and then have that much again for Battalion Chief and half of that for Deputy Chief."

And I would say, true to form, instead of digesting the entire, huge volumes of material, when it's new to you studying for Lieutenant was probably the hardest. So, I definitely did not have to study nearly that much for Battalion Chief. I was very fortunate to get a decent grade on that exam and was promoted to Battalion Chief in 1999.

Again, having to leave the borough I was working in Manhattan, I was sent out to the 15th division in Brooklyn, an area I really wanted to work but never worked much there at all. I was in the 15th division, busiest division in City of New York at  the time in the 7 and 5 precinct where companies I was working with were leading the city in crime because it was so much of the problem, similar to what we saw in the Bronx  when I started; lots of drugs, lots of crime and so then also lots of fire duty, 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:19:56] Brooklyn then is very different than Brooklyn today. Do you wish you had bought one of those three-story walk-up brownstones?

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:20:02] I'd be a millionaire. I wouldn't be working still if I had bought one of those. The old brownstones in Bedstein have become unaffordable, but at the time they were, anybody could have bought them for a song and a prayer, but now they're unaffordable. Hopefully New York recovers quickly from COVID and bounces back to the vibrancy it was a few years ago. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:20:22] Bob, tell us a little bit about the Battalion Commander. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:20:25] So very soon after getting promoted, I was given a UFO, Until Further Orders, a position in Battalion 39 East New York on Lincoln and Linden, along with Engine 225 and Ladder 107. 

As fate would have it, the other three Battalion Chiefs either transferred, got promoted, and then one was reassigned by the Fire Commissioner. And so that left me as the Senior Battalion Chief in the 3:9. So at 41 years old, I became the youngest Battalion Commander in the job because I was senior in rank and senior to the other guys that were assigned there, afterwards.

 It was quite a challenge for me personally, being 41 years old and being in charge of a Battalion on 911. There were a lot of curve balls that 911 throw us.  I was very fortunate not to lose anybody assigned to my Battalion that day; lost many since. On 911, we lost of 343 brothers, more than 25 of them were my friends that I've worked with, including my best friend, Captain Danny Brothel, who had taken my place at Ladder 24. Danny and I were volunteer firefighters in East Meadow together. We were both firefighters assigned to Engine 48 and went across the Fordham to Ladder 56. Danny and I both wound up as tenants on Ladder 24. Then Dan took my place as Captain of Ladder 24 when I was promote. Probably my biggest challenge, the hardest day in my life was the day that I had to notify his family, that we had recovered Dan's body late that day on September 11th, 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:22:02] Chief Keys, like a lot of FDNY staff, does not enjoy talking about September 11th. As I've traveled around the country with him over the years. A lot of people will ask, and most of the time, Bob does not talk about it very much. So, you heard more on this podcast than anybody else has heard in quite some time. 

Chief your last assignments coming up at FDNY, R&D. How did that come about? Let's talk about that a little, 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:22:28] JUst as I had my arm twisted to do this podcast, I had my arm twisted to become the Chief of Research and Development at FDNY. My good friend and Union buddy, Danny Milia, was working as the Executive Officer to the Chief of Safety and they were looking for somebody to take over to lead this group of 12, very dedicated Lieutenants and Captains and Firefighters that were looking for improvements in PPE technology, radios, thermal imaging cameras, ropes. 

And I interviewed for the job and was accepted. And I was very grateful because it was probably the best opportunity I had to give back to the FDNY in my whole entire career. I've saved people and put out a lot of fires, but nothing was more rewarding than working in R&D and being able to make a difference, leave the job better than I found it. As I was taught by all my mentors and help improve the equipment and safety protective gear that firefighters wear all 11,000 firefighters in FDNY. So being able to give that back was probably the most rewarding part of my whole career. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:23:34] Very good. Thank you. Chief since retirement at FDNY let's talk a little bit about how best you try to help firefighters be safer and better prepared today. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:23:44] Well, how to best help firefighters be safer and perform their job, as we say in the introduction to this podcast, we want to share lessons learned and best practices so that other fire departments or the firefighters can learn from the misfortunes or  growing pains of the dynamic fire growth that happens in new construction from the unique situations that are happening, not just in the Wildland in the West, but the urban interface sections that Western firefighters are facing.

Being able to share those things in my time traveling around the country and visiting firefighters is tremendously rewarding. And plus being able to hang out in the firehouse kitchen where, as I think most of our listeners know, is the one place that firefighters miss the most once they retire. You can learn everything you're doing wrong and get advice whether it's requested or not. And you'll meet up with some very high spirited people that are looking for the next way to pull a prank on their brother or sister firefighter. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:24:41] Bob, what are some of the things that you talk about on PPE, best practices, take no smoke, things like that.?

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:24:48] Some of those things, like just mentioned, Allen, Take No Smoke was a initiative that so impressed me by Commissioner Joe Finn from Boston. He totally changed the culture. He had the support of the Union, he had support of the mayor and turned around a tradition that was steep and what firefighters valued most; pride, determination, and not wanting to change. But  Commissioner Finn got in there and convinced their firefighters that they don't need to be dying of cancer at the rate that they were dying at the time.

And so sharing his message and sharing the videos that he put out to the public and learning how culture can change. I love to talk about that experience because I think it's so motivating to know that firefighters should know that there is no reason why you should take your SCBA  off while you're inside a building, whether it's overhauling or just the light smoke condition, leave it on as long as possible, wear your PPE the way it was designed, keep your hood on, pull your ear flaps down, put your collar up, close that throat tab if you have one, and be prepared for that flashover, because once it happens, you definitely will not have time to put your gear on right? 

And we saw that firsthand in a horrific fire right before I retired. A Firefighter Rob Wiedemann was caught in a real bad flashover in Brooklyn, right before Christmas, 2011. And he survived because he wore his gear the right way, the way it was designed; ear flaps down, collar up and he had  his SCBA on too, through the entire fire and that is really the reason why Rob lived.

 So, I love telling those stories. I love sharing those best practices. It enables me to keep helping make a difference to maybe being firefighters loose and safer; that's my goal.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:26:30] Bob  spending a lot of time with you the last six, seven years. I know that family is very important to you. Tell us a little bit about your family. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:26:36] I'll start off by talking about my brothers, Brendan, then Tim, my older brother, Brendan, and my younger brother, Tim followed me into the Volunteer Fire Department  then saw how much fun I was having an FDNY and they followed me there also. Nothing made me more proud the day that the two of them graduated together from the same probie class, and then went on to have a really successful career. Brendan retired in 2002 as a Captain in Brooklyn and he went on to get his degree as a nurse practitioner and is still seeing patients to this day.

My brother, Tim, was promoted two days after 911 in a very emotional ceremony, that he and I were, well I wish we hadn't been, but we became part of the news media. Our pictures were spread around and part of a lot of the memorials, it was an emotional time for us. We both lost quite a few friends and trying to celebrate Tim's promotion was, was hard on both of us.

Tim has since retired as Lieutenant and is finishing, building his dream house in Vermont. He's being a stay at home dad for his two high school kids. 

I want to share a quick story about the fact that all of us did at least twenty-five years and at the end, why there was only one day in the entire career of that all of us had where only two of us worked together in the same firehouse, same company. In the same day, my brother Brendan was detailed, to Ladder 24 from Eastern Queens, it was February on a snowy morning in 1993. And he walks in the firehouse door saying, "what big Manhattan, spectacular fire are we going to go to today?"

Because firefighters from the outer boroughs did not get the same media coverage that Manhattan fires did. Because that's where the media outlets were, they responded quickly to those fires and they were more spectacular and so the firefighters that didn't work in Manhattan, were always a little bit jealous.

So, Brendan walks in and teases me in front of my guys "what Manhattan spectacular we're going to go through today?" Well, not two hours later, the tones went off and we were on a way on the second alarm to the first world trade center bombing. 

FDNY was able to save so many lives that day and make such a difference. And I'm never more proud of the fact that Ladder 24, along with my brother, we were able to rescue a gentleman who had been blasted into his locker in the locker room. And we were able to locate him and get them out through tunnel systems from three floors below ground, where everything was devastated and save this gentleman's life.

And so the only day I have ever worked with my brother that turned out to be one of my most memorable days of my career. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:29:08] 10,000 plus firefighters over how many fire stations? Over two....?

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:29:13] Over 250. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:29:13] Over 250 stations and you actually  got to work with your brother. So that's a great story. 

Bob, tell us a little bit about Carolyn and the kids.

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:29:21] We Just celebrated our 30th anniversary. So grateful that she was courageous enough to stay with me through the challenges of 911; it definitely took a toll on our family, but I'm grateful for that. 

Our two children, Matthew, is now 26 years old. He works for Vail Resorts in Keystone, Colorado. Following our family's love of skiing.

My daughter, Katie is 21. She just graduated from Penn state and now lives in England and works as an Executive Assistant for a Life Coach. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:29:52] Earlier, you mentioned some of your sports than the hobbies that you like to do, but I think you slipped in there a bit of a marathon comment. Let's talk about that.

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:30:00] You know, back when my body parts worked a lot better when my knees weren't killing me, got into doing triathlons and marathons with my two brothers and then a bigger group of friends and  firefighters. And we even wound up going through the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver and San Diego and Memphis, and got very much into doing triathlons.

Cycling always seemed to be my better sport because, uh, I was a bit of a Clydesdale, not able to run as fast as some of these lightweight young bucks, but I did compete one New York City marathon. And I'm proud to say that I did it in 3 hours, 30 minutes and 31 seconds alongside my brother, Tim, who beat me. But, uh, we ran most of the race together, side by side.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:30:42] Good stuff. Good stuff! 

Bob, before we get ready to wrap up here, it's been seven years since you retired. So I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations have run out, but I think I've heard you talk a little bit about the unofficial, informa,l off property smoke confidence valuation. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:30:59] Yea, like most firefighters know, there were some real high-spirited characters in the fire service and, uh, one of the crazier nights we had was the Smoke Confidence Course to find out how tough we were and this goes along with the guys that were teaching me, don't use the air, save it for later. You might need it. 

Uh, occasionally we'd light the kitchen garbage pail on fire and the last one out of the kitchen was the bravest or the winner of the competition. HIgh-spirited and hopefully nobody tries to repeat that after hearing that that's something that we used to do. Don't want to be responsible for that.

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:31:30] Good story. Good story. 

Bob, in closing, tell us a little bit about some of the best practices that you and I have observed and participated in around the country that we share with folks doing PPE wear trial evaluations

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:31:43] Well, I would say the you know, these best practices and lesson learned in definitely include taking better care of your PPE. In a previous podcast that we did about the, uh, system that Vancouver has put together for making sure that firefighters never have to respond to a fire in contaminated gear. Is some story that I love to talk about.

I'd love to talk about that Boston story that I had mentioned and I encourage people to log on and take a look at the YouTube videos at those cancer survivors and unfortunately, widows and children. Talk about how to protect firefighters from the scourge of cancer. It is definitely the biggest killer of firefighters.

And I think it is somewhat preventable. We can do a much better job of making a difference so that we can collect as many pension checks as intended. 

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:32:27] What do you see coming up in the world of PPE and  safety in 2021 and beyond? 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:32:32] All of us are dying to be going back to being more social. We love people and we don't want to live in fear.

We are social animals, and I know we all miss very much being together, clinking glasses, having a drink together. And I look very much forward to that. I think if we continue to be as diligent in protecting ourselves, we will get back to being at concerts and movies, uh, in gatherings, conventions, uh, telling fire stories and hoisting a cold one.

I want to just share a quote, my wife told me she shared with a colleague recently that I think is kind of poignant and hopeful for me for 2021. Carolyn said, "I lived in fear after 911. I watched my husband burry too many of his friends. I will not let that emotion dominate my life again. I will be cautious and smart, but we also must live our lives and not in fear."

Allen Rom, Fire-Dex Director of Metro & International Sales: [00:33:29] That's a great statement by Carolyn  there very nice. Very nice.

Bob, last question for this interview. Let's talk a little bit about the NFPA committees. 

Yeah. I'm grateful that I've been able to talk up being a part of the NFPA committee. I've been to many of the 1971, 1851, the radio and thermal imaging cameras standards, the SCBA standards and I think it's great and I encourage firefighters from fire departments both big and small to get involved, to help make a difference. Be a voice for firefighters because without firefighters voices rules get passed that may not be in the best interest of firefighters. 

So to all our listeners out there it's free and you're wide open to log in and listen to any of the work group calls. You're allowed to become a listener at committee meetings, voting, protocols, and to be a part of the NFPA regulatory world. 

Well, thank you very much for letting us turn the tables here on the, uh, Rapid Fire Podcast with Chief Keys. I know a lot of firefighters asked me a lot of questions about you.

Thank you very much for being involved with Fire-Dex and also handling the Rapid Fire Podcast with Chief Keys. 

Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Bob Keys: [00:34:45] Thanks Allen. It was a pleasure.

 

Introductions
Venturing into R&D
How Bob Keys Was Introduced to the Fire Service
Pursuing Fire as A Job
Engine Assignment
The Journey to Becoming a Fire Officer
From the Brox to Manhattan
NYC Highrise Fires
Moving Up the Ladder to Captain of Queens
Life as the Youngest Battalion Commander
Venturing Into R&D
Helping Firefighter's Stay a Little Bit Safer
Family Life
1993 A Coincidental Encounter
Wear Trial and Evaluation Best Practices
PPE Safety 2021 and Beyond
NFPA Committees
Closing Remarks