TRIBUTE TO A CHIEF
Last Friday, August 11, 2000 Robert E. Holmes passed away at his home in North Webster, IN. I received the call from Ron Meier, my Assistant Chief on duty at Central Fire Station. After I hung up the phone, I paused a minute to reflect on what this man had meant to the Huntington Fire Department and myself.
Bob Holmes, who was Fire Chief from 1968-1976 during the Knop Administration, was an imposing man. He was over 6 feet tall, classic crew cut, and the same strong chin that made Kirk Douglas famous. The man also had a way of looking at you that was truly intimidating. He would use that look to drive home his point. His command of the English language was very impressive also. (In other words, he knew how to get you told).
One of my first lessons from Bob Holmes wasn’t one of my most pleasant experiences on the Fire Department. 17 years ago, I came into work on a Sunday morning and while sitting at the kitchen table having morning coffee, I made the mistake of saying that I had been out late and I was kind of tired. Bob was a Lieutenant on the crew at that time and he gave me one of those famous in your face looks and motioned for me to step into the truck room. Bob proceeded to rip me up one side and down the other. He said, “Look kid! Don’t ever come in to this job at any less than 100%. The people out there who are paying your salary depend on you and the guys you work with won’t settle for anything less either. So shape up!” I promptly said “Yes Sir” and walked away with my tail between my legs. Bob set me straight that day and I have always respected him for that.
I never had the opportunity to work for Bob when he was Chief, but the one common denominator that you heard from the other guys was that he was a “Firefighter’s Chief”. Bob truly remembered where he came from. This man would go to the mat for his men in a heartbeat and he didn’t care whom he was up against.
Things have come full circle now and last January 1st, I stepped into the job of Fire Chief. I was going to pick up the phone and call Bob to ask for some advice, I didn’t and I truly regret that now.
I have no grand illusions that I can do what Bob Holmes did for this Department, but I can learn from what this man embodied as a leader of men. Robert E. Holmes would have given me this advice:
1). Love your Family first
2). Remember where you came from
3). Show strength and loyalty to your men and your job
And last but not least:
4). Don’t stay out late the night before you come on duty or I’ll personally kick your tail.
Robert J. Miller, Fire Chief