When Dave Rohr says he and his brothers were “always interested in public safety,” it’s definitely an understatement. All three have had long careers with the Fairfax County Fire Department, and now Rohr, 55, just retired as the City of Fairfax’s fire chief.
“We grew up in Vienna and had a neighbor who was a volunteer in Dunn Loring,” said Rohr. “My brother Mark joined the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in 1974 and I followed in 1976. My brother Donald joined Fairfax County 18 years ago and I went there in 1979.”
Since then, Mark retired as a battalion chief and Donald’s still working, now at the Merrifield station. Dave Rohr spent 31 years with the county, mainly in the second and fourth battalions, before retiring in 2010 as assistant chief of operations. The City fire chief’s job came open in January-February of that year when the previous chief retired, and Rohr applied and got it.
“I wasn’t ready to retire outright, then,” he said. “I was still young and wanted to stay involved with public safety. This department has always been thought of as a good place to work; the skills and technical competence of the people here are just tremendous.”
ROHR BEGAN his new job with the City in May 2010 and says he’s truly enjoyed his five years here. “The men and women who work here are some of the most dedicated professionals I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “Even when they’re not here, they’re studying, reading and going to outside classes – above the normal requirements – to learn more about what they do.”
Besides that, said Rohr, “There’s a real culture of customer service here. For example, we ran a [medical-emergency] call about a year-and-a-half ago for a gentleman cleaning leaves out of his gutters. The ladder truck and ambulance went to assist him. They got him down, stabilized him and took him to the hospital. But instead of going home, the crew remained there, cleared the leaves and put away his tools before leaving.”
In addition, the department received grant money from Walmart, so personnel now carry gift cards on their fire equipment to pass out as needed. In one instance, a woman’s stove caught fire, so the crew gave her a gift card to replace her dishes, pots and pans.
“We respond to all sorts of calls, and our people are extremely caring and understanding,” said Rohr. “And our firefighters are also cross-trained as paramedics.”
Speaking with The Connection shortly before retiring, he said, “This department is so small that I get to interact with all the people on a regular basis. I know everyone by first name and I can put in new programs and test them out almost immediately; we can get them approved faster.”
Rohr also streamlined the department’s hiring process. There are currently 80 people – 60 operational firefighters, 13 fire-code administrators and seven department administrators.
Toughest part of his job, he said, was dealing with late-night budget meetings and some outdated administrative policies and practices.
Rohr said 70 percent of the calls are for EMS help, with 30 percent for fires and other critical incidents, such as those involving hazardous materials or people trapped in machinery or elevators. “Last year, we ran 11,500 incident responses – calculated on the number of vehicles responding to each incident,” he said. “We’re dispatched out of Fairfax County’s MPSTOC [McConnell Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center] building.
So, for example, said Rohr, “If Vienna’s fire station is out on a call, we could be dispatched to cover their other calls. Or if there’s a large fire in Arlington and they need four engine companies, and we’re available, we’d get dispatched automatically. This fall is the 40th anniversary of the Northern Virginia Response Agreement – the document supporting the automatic aid – and I’ve worked on the streets and in my supervisory roles to support and enhance it. I still miss riding on fire engines – it’s an adrenaline rush. I always wanted to be busy and helping more people.”
SO WHY RETIRE NOW from a job he so obviously loved? “After 36-plus years, I was ready,” replied Rohr. “My wife, a florist, is also retired and our sons are both grown and out of the house. And last fall, we bought a home outside Charleston, S.C., so we just want to be able to go down there on vacations whenever we want.”
“We also want to travel and enjoy retirement while we’re still young,” he continued. “We live in Loudoun County and don’t plan to relocate. We’re looking forward to giving back to both communities, in Loudoun and in South Carolina.”
Rohr will also have more time for golfing and cycling. “I’ve spent my entire life working on weekends, holidays and evenings, and I’ll be glad not to have to do that anymore,” he said. “I’ve been married 33 years, and I want to spend more time with my wife.”
He officially retired Aug. 1, and City Manager Bob Sisson appointed Andy Vita, an assistant fire chief, as acting fire chief until a replacement is named.
“I’ll miss the firefighters and paramedics here and the significant events I’ve been trained for,” said Rohr. “I’ll also miss a lot of the professional relationships I’ve made over these 36 years. It’ll be a whole, different world – but I’m ready to try it.”