How he got into firefighting, how technology has changed the profession over time, and his passion for serving the community
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Marshfield Fire Chief Bob Haight took an untraditional path to his post as head of the fire department. He worked at a local manufacturer — Graham Wood Doors, which has now moved to Iowa — prior to transitioning to public service. In 1986 he started putting in time as a paid on-call firefighter, and his first day as a full-time firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) was June 10, 1990.
In 1998, after eight years of being an “on the line” firefighter and EMT, Haight was promoted to the post of deputy chief and became the head chief in 2013. All told, Haight has been a full-fledged member of the department for 25 years and has been involved with the department for almost 30 years.
“It really wasn’t where my heart was,” Haight said of his work in manufacturing prior to becoming a firefighter. Haight lived next door to a paid on-call firefighter, and from conversations with his neighbor it sounded like something he wanted to do.
“I always liked EMS (emergency medical services), but the fire was also just as infectious,” Haight said of his interest in joining the department. “I really intended to kind of spend my whole career being a line firefighter, but when this opportunity for deputy chief came up, I had a bunch of guys that said that I should do it.”
“My whole thing has always been what I viewed as being best for this department. So I wanted to make sure that I gave this department whatever I could that I thought would be in its best interest,” he said.
Going from firefighter to deputy chief and now chief, Haight’s duties are a combination of multiple positions. They encompass his political role as city department head, occasionally going out on calls responding to fire and medical emergencies, acting as a safety officer at fire scenes, working with news media, and setting his staff up for success.
One of the struggles for the department has been a perception that all they do is respond to fires, which as Haight says, are relatively rare in Marshfield. He added that in addition to responding to calls, the department works to educate the public about fire safety issues, runs the ambulance service, is equipped to handle hazardous materials in emergency situations, and every person in the department is both an EMT and a firefighter.
“The Marshfield Fire Department has become a little bit of everything. So we take on roles that are not traditional to the fire service, but then again, who else is going to do it?” Haight said.
The role of technology
Over the course of his career, Haight said that technology has been a major force for change within the department. Air packs, which firefighters use for air when they enter a fire environment, now last much longer than they did in the past. Collecting data and finding empirical evidence to determine best practices and improve protocols has also become a central focus.
Thermal imaging cameras are another technological evolution and can scan for differences in the temperature of an environment to help detect where a person is located within a burning building. Haight added that equipment on both fire engines and ambulances has also improved.
“There’s all these things that are out there that are really for the benefit of the people that we’re out to help,” Haight said. He added that the ambulance service has gone from being minimally equipped with just first aid supplies to, “Now we’re actually bringing the emergency room out to the patient.”
The department’s defibrillators can now measure a person’s blood oxygen levels and provide an electrocardiogram.
“We can even tell (with a defibrillator) how much CO2 is in their breath going out because that percentage of CO2 tells us how well the body is taking in oxygen and giving off,” Haight said.
The department recently acquired two Lucas 2 Chest Compression Systems, which provide automated chest compressions during CPR negating human deficiencies such as fatigue or inconsistent rhythm.
Passion and challenges
Haight is 60 years old and has committed to being the chief for at least another four years but may do it longer.
“The joy about it is I love doing what I’m doing,” Haight said. “I really love what I’m doing. I could retire if I wanted to, … but it’s like I’m not doing it to get my retirement to where I would like it to be. I’m doing it because I just like doing what I’m doing. And so until that stops, I will continue doing it.”
He added, “I love working with the public. I love teaching and talking about this department. I think we offer an awful lot.”
He said one of the biggest challenges he faces is the time commitment of his position.
“My wife will tell you that I live here (at the department). Not enough hours in the day,” Haight said.