1. Where do you work and what company?
Knight - I work for DeKalb County Fire Rescue, which shares a large border with the east side of the City of Atlanta. I'm currently assigned to 20A, The Pride of Panthersville, where I am the Driver/Operator on the engine. When one of the tiller drivers is off, I slide over and take his place.
2. What’s your current rank? How long have you been at that rank?
Knight - Driver/Operator, which is a tested driver's position. The department re-created the position a couple years ago, after over a decade without tested drivers. I've held the rank since then.
3. How many personnel are on your apparatus? How does work get split at a job?
Knight - Minimum staffing of three on engines and trucks. Typically, engines do engine work, and trucks do truck work, but we do have the confusing issue of the first-arriving quints. First-due engine officer and tailboard handle fire attack. 2nd due engine handles water supply. First arriving truck is most commonly assigned search, and their driver will handle outside truck work, like ladders, utilities, and getting the aerial in play if needed. With 3-man staffing our officers are working bosses, and they help advance lines, drop rock, search, or whatever other task-level work is being done.
4. What got you into the fire service?
Knight - I've long tried to remember that one moment that made me want to be a fireman, but I can't. The feeling just sort of welled up inside me in my high school years. Despite an attempt at the music business following school, that pull never left. I would later come to know Jesus as my savior, and in getting saved, I've realized that the feeling I'd felt was because this is what He has called me to do with this part of my life.
5. What job did you have before being a firefighter?
Knight - Tons. My first job was framing apartment buildings at age 14. I've done retail, I've bussed tables, sold guitars, sprayed bed-liners, worked in a major recording studio, and done every job at a pizza restaurant from washing dishes up to managing the place. To improve my chances of getting on with a fire department, I went to EMT school in 2004 and worked 911 EMS for a year before DeKalb hired me.
6. Who were some of your mentors in the beginning and now?
Knight - My first major mentor in the fire service was Colin Kelley, of Clark County, NV. I took his class at MAFFC, titled, "Lightweight Construction: Don't Believe the Hype," and it was the beginning of a major shift in my training focus and mindset on roof ops. I went on to attend that same class two more times, and I still prefer the cut sequences and operations I first learned from Colin and his crew.
These days, I have an entire PowerPoint slide that lists people I consider mentors, but the guys whose brains I pick most are the three other Roof Pervs (Rob Risher, James Johnson, and Stephen Tyler), and the cadre with which I'm teaching a roof ops class in September (Rob Fisher, Arthur Ashley, Brian Mattson, Jason Joannides, Neal Dickey, Julio Ramos, and Jeff Mrwik). Walter Kobylka, Bryan Lynch, and Chad Berg were all part of the cadre, too, but have had scheduling conflicts that prevented being there this year. While my name is listed as the lead instructor, those guys are the stars. All I did was make a list of the people from whom I'd want to take a vertical ventilation class, and then I asked them to come teach with me. I've been fortunate to have taught with, trained with, or trained under everyone in that cadre, and each has, like Colin, been an incredibly formative influence on me.
7. What’s your balance between family and career?
Knight - I'm still figuring that one out. I work a 24/48 schedule at DeKalb, and five 24 hr shifts every month at my part-time department. In the past, I would typically attend the Metro Atlanta Firefighter's Conference in the Spring, and then a weeklong class of some sort in the fall. By the end of this year, I will have been at five different conferences, and I've been added to the cadre of two awesome training companies.
With the increase in travel, work, and general "away" time, I am trying to increase the quality of the time that I do spend at home. I try to attend as many of my kids' events as possible, and I've been trying to carve out more time with my family for creating memories together. We go camping a couple times a year, and the wife and I just had an amazing vacation to Amelia Island (just the two of us, no kids).
Still, it has been a challenge, and I've tried to glean as much wisdom as possible from the guys and gals that have been dealing with this sort of duality of lives for much longer than I. In the end, the sacrifices made by my family and me are part of traveling the path the Lord has laid before us, and to paraphrase a piece of sage insight Aaron Fields gave me: it is good for my boys to see the sacrifices and hardships undertaken for a cause greater than oneself.
8. What do you think the best thing about the fire service is? What is the worst?
Knight - Best thing about the fire service: the hope we provide the public. Worst thing about the fire service: people who think we come before THEM.
9. Do you have any formal education? What are your thoughts on formal education versus on the job training?
Knight - I have a few years of college, but no degree. I think formal education can augment good Firemanship. It's certainly not going to make a good fireman worse. The push for formal education as a requirement for promotion sometimes creates an environment where everyone has a degree, has checked that box, but no one stands apart for it. The value of a degree has become watered down in the world at large, and I think this blue collar profession is headed into the same fate. I would prefer that we find some way to reward skilled tradesmanship as well. If someone has gone through an official apprenticeship program for a trade other than ours, that's often essentially four years of education, including formal coursework, but it counts for naught in promotional processes.
On the job experience in the fire service is highly valuable, but it's also highly individual. What a person gains in action experienced vs. knowledge retained over a career depends upon that person. Proficiency doesn't come from the years of service; it comes from making the most of those years of service.
10. What’s your favorite truck company task? And why?
Knight - Roof work. Aside from it being the coolest assignment on the fireground, it's also the most connected to and dependent upon building construction, which is kind of my jam.
11. Do you prefer a stick or a tower? Why?
Knight - Stick, just because it's what I've known almost my entire career. Both have distinct advantages on the fireground, though.
12. What organizations (Non-profit, LLC’s, and other groups) do you work for or run?
Knight - I am one of four nerds that contribute to The Roof Perv, a fire service building construction page. I recently joined both Magic City Truck Academy (MCTA) and Fireground and Special Operations Concepts (FSOC) as an instructor. I also run Peach State FireNuggets, the Georgia chapter of the national nonprofit training organization.
13. What are your goals for the organizations that you are with?
Knight - With The Roof Perv, we try to spread some of the love for building construction that brought the four of us together. I think that's our only goal, though it may take many forms, such as social media posts, classroom and HOT delivery, and podcasts.
My goals with both training companies really just consist of finding my place on each team, and doing whatever I can to ensure that the student receives the best quality training we can provide. I'll be learning from other cadre members, to hone my own skills as both a fireman and an instructor.
Peach State FireNuggets has gotten off to a slow start, admittedly. I think, however, that having attended so many events recently, I have more ideas and connections for helping to bring some great training to Georgia at as low a cost as possible.
14. What’s your favorite class to teach?
Knight - Vertical ventilation has been my favorite, however, I assisted Jeff Mrwik and Malta Fire Training with their TTL forcible entry class at MAFFC, and I rather enjoyed teaching the deadbolt/key-in-knob station. I have a fair amount of experience with failed TTL on those two types of locks, so it was fun to pass on those lessons to a group of students that was eager to learn a skill that isn't very flashy when it goes well. And that's a really important factor: it's always more enjoyable to teach people that are they're chasing excellence. Everyone's favorite class to teach is the one where everyone is itching to learn.
15. Inside out outside truck work? Why?
Knight - If we're prioritizing by my enjoyment, topside. Then inside. Then outside. I just really like roof work. If I can't pop the top, then I want to be inside, searching and then dropping rock. As a driver, I get a certain amount of satisfaction out of really proficient outside truck work (ladders, utilities, aerial ops, etc.), but it's still not the same as being above or inside a building on fire.
16. Who’s your main crew that you instruct with?
Knight - I don't have a main crew. I've been a free agent adjunct instructor until recently. I have done most of my helping at various classes at MAFFC. I've been really fortunate to have been asked to assist some great lead instructors, like Dustin Martinez, Chad Menard, Arthur Ashley, Julio Ramos, and Jeff Mrwik.
17. Would you rather go teach at multiple conferences or small one day classes?
Knight - I don't know yet. Not enough experience with both sides of that coin.
18. What would you say is the biggest geographical difference in the US when it comes to truck work?
Knight - Building construction. It's very regionally dependent = It affects every aspect of operations: inside, outside, and topside. Building construction, and the familiarization therewith, is what determines how you go about accomplishing the goals that are common to all fires. When you see guys arguing back and forth on the Internet over what they wouldn't and wouldn't do, or shouldn't and shouldn't do, many times, the source of the disconnect is dissimilar building construction in the regions of those involved.
19. What’s your favorite hand tool for ventilation?
Knight - Depends upon the task: I have an affinity for the Nupla Roof Hook for sounding, but I have a few special pickheads for slicing and chopping.
20. Who in your opinion is one of the best people in today’s fire service trying to make others better? Why?
Knight - There are sooooo many. It's a fantastic time to be a student of the craft, because you can't walk out of your front door without tripping over a fire conference boasting top quality instructors, and each of those conferences was started by one or more incredible people just trying to make the fire service better. That said, there are two I'd like to recognize: the first is Cody Trestrail. His leadership of the Firemanship Conference PDX has been a catalyst for many other conferences and the widening reach and influence of instructors that have been featured there. The second is OJ Kolodziej. OJ has been charging headlong into the advancement of American fire ladder technology and use for a while now, and I'm excited to see where it takes us.
Thank you for your time and please sound off one who else you would like to hear from or about!
Fire Factory Staff.