Considering a career as a firefighter? Retiring fire chief says sacrifices pay off in the long run
Robert Singletary fell into firefighting.
“I was never a little kid that wanted to grow up and be a firefighter, but I was blessed to be ... allowed to be one and to lead this department for the past 17 years,” said Singletary, whose last official day as Warner Robins fire chief was symbolically set for 9/11.
“It’s been a tremendous job, and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been an honor.”
After graduating from Warner Robins High School in 1980, Singletary went to college for about a year.
“I decided that school wasn’t really something I was interested in at that time, so my intention was to get a job and do it for a few years and then go back to school,” he said. “A few years turned into almost 35 years.”
He joined Warner Robins fire at age 20 on Feb. 1, 1982.
Within 2½ years, Singletary made driver engineer, which put him behind the wheel of a firetruck. In another 2½ years he made lieutenant, and then that same year he was promoted to chief of training.
“At the time, I figured that if I could be that successful that early, maybe it was something I needed to at least think about turning into a career. And it just seems like throughout my career the timing has worked out for me.”
He also went back to college at night to earn a degree in business administration.
Back in the day
In 1982, Singletary was among just 50 or so firefighters working out of four stations. Two firefighters staffed one station.
Since then, the force has more than doubled, and there are seven active stations. An eighth station, the former headquarters on Myrtle Street, is expected to serve as firefighter history museum someday.
Improved protective gear and equipment is probably the greatest change Singletary said he’s seen in fire service.
“The bunker gear we wore was very heavy and it wasn’t fire retardant. It was just fire resistant,” he said. “The breathing apparatus we wore back then was probably 35-40 pounds, compared to 15-20 pounds now, so the equipment has improved a tremendous amount to help protect the firefighters.”
Firefighters no longer ride outside the firetruck on a tailboard, where they were exposed to the elements and took a chance of falling off. The firetrucks now have fully enclosed cabs.
“We have things like thermal imaging cameras that we can see through the smoke to locate victims,” Singletary said. “We carry defibrillator devices on all our apparatus in case somebody’s having a heart attack.”
All the firetrucks are equipped with computers, allowing access to preplanned information about a business in the event of a fire.
Singletary said he expects the use of drones in the future for large-scale disasters or hazardous material incidents.
“You can send a drone up over and do surveillance and take pictures and kind of get a better idea of what you have without having to send firefighters in harm’s way,” he said.
A distinguished career
His office was filled with firefighting memorabilia, awards and family photos, including one taken the night he was appointed fire chief in December 1999.
He was named Georgia’s Fire Chief of the Year in 2005. He’s served twice as president of the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. He will serve as the immediate past president for the next two years.
He is a 2006 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He also earned the Georgia fire chief certification, the first one ever issued by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs.
Singletary values most that none of his firefighters was seriously injured under his command. He is also proud of the wellness program for firefighters he started.
“My No. 1 priority has always been taking care of the firefighters,” the 55-year-old said.
His retirement does not necessarily mean he’s retiring from the fire service altogether.
“My wife says she’ll keep me busy enough that I’ll probably want to find another job,” Singletary said. “I don’t know. I will see what doors open. I think there’s some opportunities out there. I really haven’t made a decision right now.”
Wishing him well
Seven-year-old Parker Moulton, the son of the new fire chief, gave Singletary a black Superman T-shirt at his retirement reception.
Singletary joked with the boy that the large “S” doesn’t stand for Superman but for Singletary.
Mayor Randy Toms said Singletary was a great chief because he believed in people and in the fire service.
“He was always concerned about firefighters going home to their families, and that will have the biggest impact on me, on firefighters in Warner Robins and throughout the state,” said Toms, himself a retired city firefighter.
Firefighter Nate Pomazal, 33, described Singletary as “a great boss” who had an open-door policy and was always approachable.
“He’s always encouraged us to pursue education and pursue our physical fitness and make sure that we go home safe at the end of the day.”