Firehouse Interview: Chief Ray Colburn (ret.), Reedy Creek Emergency Services

Ben May recently interviewed William “Ray” Colburn, who retired as the fire chief of Reedy Creek Emergency Service, which protects Walt Disney World in Florida, in late April.


Ben May recently interviewed William “Ray” Colburn, who retired as the fire chief of Reedy Creek Emergency Service in late April. Colburn started with the Reedy Creek Emergency Services in Lake Buena Vista, FL, as a firefighter/paramedic in 1979. Richard D. LePere Jr. was appointed fire chief following Coburn's retirement.

You can find more photos from this interview in the Firehouse Limited Edition Tablet App, which is available now.

May: What is the background for the establishment of Reedy Creek Emergency Services?

Colburn: The Florida Legislature, in 1967, recognized that the economic progress and well-being of the people of Florida was dependent, in large measure, upon the many visitors and new residents coming to Florida. In order to assure the future welfare and continued prosperity of Florida and its people, it created the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). RCID was established to provide a full range of governmental services to an undeveloped Central Florida site nearly twice the size of Manhattan. The enabling legislation provided RCID with powers, functions and authorities to promote and create favorable conditions for the development and practical application of new and advanced concepts.

One of those governmental services was the Reedy Creek Emergency Services (RCES). RCES was created to provide public safety, fire prevention and protection and emergency medical services (EMS). 

The history of our unique community has clearly demonstrated the premise that proactive policies of providing fixed extinguishment and alarm systems in buildings offer significant long-term benefits as related to building occupant and firefighter safety. A major factor with this type of approach is the continual inspection process to ensure that all fire protection systems remain fully operational. 

May: How does RCES operate versus other kinds of departments?

Colburn: RCES was conceived and organized for the purpose of providing emergency and non-emergency fire service functions within a very special community. The initial community served was a large construction site known as “Walt Disney World (WDW).” The Department was initially designed in a traditional manner, which incorporated many of the practices of a typical municipal fire service environment for the delivery of these types of services. However, the requirements of Factory Mutual stipulated that prevention and fixed fire protection systems as opposed to an aggressive fire suppression force would be required due to the isolated location.

The WDW Community, as constructed in 1971 using the EPCOT Building and Fire Prevention Code(s), eliminated many of the life and building safety problems inherited by poor construction practices common in most areas of the country. Automatic sprinkler protection systems were installed in all significant structures within the District and fire and smoke detection systems were common in most buildings. Every control valve and switch in these systems was, and continues to be, monitored by a central computerized control system in redundant locations with RCES being one of these monitoring points. I believe that the fire service community marveled at the commitment demonstrated by the district and the landowner in demanding a fire safe community and based upon this commitment and partnership, the District has enjoyed an unmatched fire loss record of less than $200,000. The district covers 28,000 acres in Central Florida.

May: How do you handle fire prevention throughout the district?

Colburn: The department maintained a small, but active, group of inspection personnel until the mid 1980s. In 1984, the district signed an agreement with the Walt Disney World Company to expand the fire prevention activities of the department to offset the loss of the Walt Disney World Fire/Loss Prevention Department. To meet these expanded activities, the department increased its own inspector base to meet workload and inspection demands. This agreement outlined additional fire prevention support activities establishing the foundation of our unique service delivery and prevention effort.

This content continues onto the next page...