Meet Chief Robbie Kiser of the Pulaski F.D.
I'm sure more than one person reading this article had dreams of growing up to become a firefighter when they were a kid. After all, it's the fourth ranked dream job among kids, sitting just below astronauts. Nationally viewed as one of the most important positions a person can hold in America, it's no wonder why; we tend to count those in public service positions as a step above the rest, and firefighters are no different. Continuously risking their lives for the safety of others, firefighters chose their path not for fame or money, but because they have a desire to help those in need, no matter the cost or the stakes.
The Pulaski Fire Department is no different. Made up of 25 volunteers and 11 career members, their primary goal is helping people in need, in particular the residents of the Town of Pulaski and the surrounding county. Their leader, Fire Chief Robbie Kiser, sets this example every day for the people under his command. Chief Kiser began his stint as a volunteer firefighter with the Pulaski Fire Department in 2001, and October will make 16 years that he has been a career member. He's been a firefighter altogether a bit longer, having originally joined the Draper Fire Department 20 years ago at 20 years of age. He's still a member of the Draper F.D., but the greater bulk of his responsibilities and time are spent with Pulaski. He was hired by the late Fire Chief Bill Webb before Chief Kiser took that position in 2015. "I joined because I just wanted to help people out. A few of my buddies had joined up, and I saw the need in the area. It's just a good feeling helping citizens out, being involved in emergencies."
Many people may think that fire departments only handle fires, but that couldn't be further from the truth. "The Fire Department is an all-hazard, all-emergency response unit now. We run fires obviously, but we also do water rescues, hazmat, ice rescues, and general cleanup such as trees blocking roads. Rope rescues, high angle rescues. We do everything. Wrecks are probably our most common item of response, and we do a lot of EMS first response, especially if it's a bad call." The Pulaski Fire Department is generally on call for many situations alongside the Pulaski Police Department, as well as the Pulaski Sherriff's Department and REMSI (Regional Emergency Medical Services). Since they work in tandem, there's a big reliance on each other in terms of getting the job done as efficiently and safely as possible.
As mentioned, the Pulaski Fire Department is staffed by 25 volunteers and 11 career members. I would have thought that most members would lean on the younger side, but I was surprised by Chief Kiser's answer. "We've actually got a mix of guys, you know, we've got guys in their 70's all the way back down to 16. We've actually got someone in almost every decade age range, 20's, 30's, 40's, and so on. Some of these guys have been here 40 or more years."
Fire Chief Kiser has spent his whole life in our area. He grew up in Draper, and after he got married and began his career position with the F.D. in 2003 he moved to Morehead Lane, just outside of the Town of Pulaski. He loves it here, as is evident since he's remained here ever since he first moved. He has a few friends that work for the Roanoke Fire Department; the biggest difference between the two areas is primarily the volume of calls they receive, which makes sense given the big difference in population size in our two areas. "The City of Roanoke has 13 stations, but since the Town of Pulaski is an older area we actually run more fire calls than the station that one of my friends works in, which is newer. They take a lot more calls in general though, since it's a lot more populated and there's a lot more stuff going on."
Being a firefighter means being on call almost 24/7; emergencies don't wait until they're convenient, they just happen. Fire Chief Kiser doesn't mind the responsibility though. "It's not bad, you get used to it. It's harder on your family more than anything, especially for somebody who may be new to the department. Fortunately for my family, my wife and I have been married for 16 years. It's kind of a thing now, she knows that it's a part of our life. It does have its days, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving. We had a big fire this Father's Day that took that time with family away from some of our guys. But the pros of the job outweigh the cons."
Fire Chief Kiser and his wife Laura have two children, Lydia who is 13 and James who is 10. They all came out last Sunday for the Town of Pulaski's company picnic, where he put the competition to shame in a cornhole tournament, not even sparing his son. He and his wife couldn't be happier raising their children in a place like the Town of Pulaski. "We really just enjoy being a part of it all, and the people. Everyone is friendly, you know, you can break down on the side of the road and you've got about a 99.8% chance of someone pulling over to help. There's always something to do, it's a small town so you can find something to get into no matter where you go." Chief Kiser spends a lot of his free time helping coach little league baseball; his son James plays, and several of his coworkers and friends also take part in the coaching or supporting their kids.
When it comes to pets, Chief Kiser is a dog man through and through. "I like cats, don't get me wrong but I like dogs better." He has a Jack Russell Terrier named Scrappy, a Corgi named Jack, and a Goldendoodle named Annie. Scrappy is getting to be an old man (17 years old!), but according to him he's as good a dog as ever. When Chief Kiser gets some time away from work, he loves to go camping with his family. "My favorite vacation spot is probably the campground." He's gone a few times with other employees from the Town, but nothing beats kicking back with his family and enjoying the outdoors. Chief Kiser was sort of in a neutral position when asked about his stance on the pineapple on pizza debate. "I like pineapple, but I've gotta have a little meat on my pizza when I get it."
As the summer starts to fade the Pulaski Fire Department will stay vigilant as ever, continuing to serve the citizens of Pulaski in the multitude of roles they carry out daily. The Town of Pulaski couldn't be more thankful for the effort they put forth day in and day out, and for Chief Kiser's leadership in one of the finest fire departments in the New River Valley.