The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District recently added two new assistant chiefs to its ranks, with Executive Assistant Fire Chief for Operations Scott Wirth and Assistant Chief of Training, Education, and Safety Billy Cockman. Both longtime firefighters are thrilled to join not only the Fire District but the Fort Myers Beach community.
“My wife Sonya and I have two daughters,” related Chief Wirth, a Florida native from Fort Lauderdale. “Haley is a senior at Cape Coral High School, while Ashley is a sophomore there. I began as a volunteer firefighter while still in high school, and the Fort Myers Fire Department hired me right when I turned 20 in 1991. I was so young, I had no idea what I was getting into, as there were no previous firefighters in my family. When I earned my first Kelly Day – a paid day off because you accumulate so many overtime hours – and they told me not to come to work, I thought they were messing with me, so I showed up, and then I got ever more grief for that!”
Chief Cockman and his wife, Lisa, are the parents of two daughters as well, with his family getting ready to relocate from the Jacksonville area, where he has been with the fire department since 1997, following 8 years’ service in the Navy. “Kaylee is 13 and in the 8th grade, while Alexa is 9,” he says with obvious pride! “When I was in the interview process, they came for a visit and absolutely fell in love with Fort Myers Beach, so suddenly there was a lot more pressure from my own family than over the interview that I get this job – you have never had a 13-year-old so excited to move!”
The Right Place at The Right Time
As each new Chief is already eligible to professionally retire, they were in positions to control their own destinies, so why the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District? “I have always worked in Lee County and knew the beach department from a distance,” explained Chief Wirth. “I saw the leadership that came with Chief Matthew Love and Assistant Chiefs Ron Martin and Randy Kraus. When the Chief of Operations position opened up, it seemed like the timing for me was so perfect that it fell into my lap! This organization is full of energy and a good group of people who look to progress and grow, so this is the right place at the right time for me. I was not shopping for a new job, and this was the only place I applied – if it did not work out, I would still happily be with Fort Myers.”
“For almost nine years in Jacksonville, I was the lead supervisor for training,” explained Chief Cockman in his southern drawl. “I always love training, so I was very excited when I learned about Fort Myers Beach, so I read up and called around and heard nothing but great things. My primary concern was that I go to a family-oriented fire department, and I felt they were looking for that out of me as well, so I just fell in love with this place.” Chief Wirth’s new duties include the operations of the department, while Chief Cockman will handle training and education.
While firefighters are often family generational occupations, that is not the case of either man. “I started as a volunteer my senior year in high school,” recalled Chief Wirth. “When we would go in on Sunday mornings, we spent most of our time washing trucks and stuff like that. One day we had a fire, and I got dressed and they threw an air pack on me and said to see the Chief, and we fought that fire and I was hooked! This is such an exciting job, as you never know what you will do from one day to the next.”
Smile All Day Long
“Mine is a kind-of funny story,” remembered Chief Cockman. “I joined the Navy when I was 18 years old, and I met another young fellow and he tried to convince me to sign up for fire school but I had no interest, so when he couldn’t talk me into it, he just signed me up without me knowing! I fell in love with it and have not looked back. For me, firefighting makes me smile all day long and that is a fact!”
As to what they will bring to their new District and community, “I hope my experience and enthusiasm will be a big benefit, including with a marine program and hazardous materials,” said Chief Wirth. “I have my contractor’s license, so I know better than most the construction of buildings, as a fire is nothing more than an uncontrolled demolition, so you take as much control as possible through your knowledge. You must know how a building goes up to understand how it may come down, and I want to pass that knowledge on to my colleagues. Firetrucks come with a bunch of tools, so you need to be a better decisionmaker to know when to use each one correctly, at the appropriate time, to get the job done right.”
“The safety of my brothers and sisters in the department, as well as our residents, is my primary concern,” explained Chief Cockman. “But it is more than safety but motivation. I want everyone to report to work here with a smile on their face, while they receive the best training in the entire country, with the skills and knowledge to back that up, and we have everything necessary right here to achieve those goals.”
Opportunities & Comradery
Both rave about their careers. “It may be a cliché but I love helping people and it is as simple as that,” explains Chief Wirth. “It clicked in for me that the people calling us are waiting anxiously for help, so I look at each call as an opportunity to help your fellow man, and then it becomes so rewarding! When you call 911, you do not get to choose who responds, so when we get that opportunity, you want to do everything possible to make their lives better.”
“I love the camaraderie,” added Chief Cockman. “Not just between the personnel, but the personnel and our community. It is like the military, were you love each other like brothers and sisters and you are family, while having the honor to serve your nation. We support the lives and property of our neighbors, sometimes over 400 times a month, and that is more than a career, but a gratification that lasts for the rest of your life.”
“Even though I have only been here a relatively short time, it is very common when I am about-and-about for people to come up and say, ‘Thanks for your service,’” concluded Chief Wirth. “As public officers, we must earn the public trust, so I want to convey back to Fort Myers Beach residents, ‘thank you for your support!’” “Absolutely,” echoed Chief Cockman. “That truly means the world to us, as does your trust in us. We know you have high expectations, but we deliver!”