5 questions with Boca Raton Fire Chief Tom Wood

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1. What made you decide to become a firefighter? Tell us how you worked your way up to fire chief, a little description about yourself and about the department.
My fire service roots trace back to Sound Beach, New York. My father, mother, grandfather and grandmother were all active in the Sound Beach [Volunteer] Fire Department and their Ladies Auxiliary Unit. I started as a Junior Firefighter and completed the State required course work for firefighter and E.M.T. before I was 18. I started responding to calls on my 18th birthday. By the time I was 19 ½ years old, I was hired here at Boca Raton Fire Rescue as a Firefighter. Through the years I was promoted to Firefighter/Driver, Lieutenant, Captain, Commander, Assistant Fire Chief, and Deputy Fire Chief. I was appointed as the 6th career Fire Chief in August 2006. Boca Raton Fire Rescue has 8 fire stations and 220 employees.
2. What is the best part of working for the city of Boca Raton?
“World Class Service Delivery” (one of the City’s highest goals) sets us apart from many other agencies. We have the best fire rescue stations, fire and EMS apparatus, tools and equipment and the very best employees. As of June 1, 2016 we are rated “ISO Class 1” (the highest rating in the USA). Only 178 other fire rescue agencies in the USA share this honor.
3. What is the most challenging part of your job?
Firefighting is a dangerous business. I read about tragic incidents and best safety practices elsewhere and we implement those policies here. Despite all our efforts, we have had “close calls” and losses. We take all of this very seriously and try to implement technology and new procedures that we hope will prevent reoccurrences.
4. What safety tip or tips does the department push the most?
We have two tips:
All persons should learn CPR. The life they save may be someone they love very much.
Buy and install smoke detectors in your homes. If you already have them, test them, replace batteries as needed. Don’t go to sleep without knowing your smoke detectors are working.
5. Tell us about the craziest fire you have ever combated.
Two of my firefighting stories were recently published in Pass It On: The Second Alarm by Billy Goldfeder and Friends. Go to page 429 for two serious lessons learned.
Poking fun at myself…We responded to a brush fire caused by a lightning strike back in the 1980s. The fire was about 200 feet into the woods in the area of Yamato Road and Military Trail (where Broken Sound is today). The fire covered a small area, about 20 feet by 20 feet. My firefighter and I used a rake, a shovel and a 2 ½ gallon pressurized water extinguisher to contain and then extinguish the fire. As I was pulling the burnt leaves back and creating a clearing around the small fire, I found a black round piece of plastic that wasn’t burnt. I thought that was very unusual…gee why didn’t it burn? I picked it up and tossed it like a Frisbee, deep into the woods. We finished up our job and walked back out to our fire engine and returned to the fire station. We were about ½ a mile away when the firefighter said “there is something wrong with the fire extinguisher…it will not stand straight up.” That was when the “light bulb” clicked on and we returned to the fire scene and I spent the next 10 minutes searching through the woods for the black plastic base to our fire extinguisher!