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.


Today, fire prevention consists of 18 fire safety inspectors, 1 battalion chief, 2 assistant chiefs and 1 deputy chief (who serves as the department’s fire marshal). These personnel provide 24-hour coverage five days per week. Typical fire prevention activities include, but are not limited to, annual inspections, bi-monthly inspections, plans review, emergency power testing, alarm systems acceptance testing, kitchen system testing, weekly kitchen walk through/inspections, convention plans review and inspections, issuing permits, public education, occupancy checks, sprinkler system inspections and public service responses.

May: RCES EMS has a unique EMS delivery plan. What details can you share with us about service delivery?

Colburn: In 1971, RCES began its delivery of emergency medical services (EMS) to the employees and guest of WDW. Initially, this service was two-fold. EMS was provided through response to the areas within the district and to provide industrial medical services to the employees of WDW after the close of their first-aid facilities. In 1976, the department, through the City of Bay Lake, began the delivery of advanced life support (ALS) paramedic services within the district. This service has evolved into an ALS transport service with the addition in 2001 of ALS first response Medical Assistance Response Cart (MARC) program. This program combined with the Public Access Defibrillation Program has allowed for quicker and a more efficient response to those patients in cardiac arrest resulting in increased survivability. This has been accomplished by the deployment of personnel and equipment throughout the district, mainly in the park environment, in satellite stations. The acceptance and success of the MARC Program has exceeded our expectations as demonstrated in a recent audit by the department’s medical director, which showed a 50 percent survivability rate for those patients in cardiac arrest (ventricular fibrillation). As such, and as an effort to continue to improve service delivery standards, the department expanded the MARC Program in 2007 by adding two carts and 10 personnel.

Also, as an increase in service delivery, the department developed and implemented an EMS Bicycle Response Team to cover special events such as the Walt Disney World Marathon in 2006. This team, consisting of 15 personnel, EMTs and paramedics, trained to utilize their portability to their highest advantage while maneuvering through densely crowded venues with relative ease. These teams can provide rapid patient contact and treatment to areas that are more difficult to access by traditional response units. When not responding to sick or injured persons, the team provides various public education initiatives such as bicycle safety and first aid and safety information.

Currently, the department operates seven ALS transport rescues, one ALS squad, one ALS engines, one ALS tower and 7 MARC units staffed with EMS personnel daily. These personnel are divided into two categories, paramedic/firefighters who staff the transport rescue as well as the squad and engine companies on a 24 on-duty/48 off-duty schedule and paramedics and EMTs who staff the MARC units on a eight- 10-, 12-, or 16-hour shift. EMS personnel staffing consist of two assistant chiefs, three battalion chiefs, three MARC captains, 60 paramedic/firefighters, 22 paramedics and 14 EMTs.

May: How do you handle your 911 communications?

Colburn: When the department was established in 1968, one secretary operated the radio and answered a basic 911 line transferred from a call center during the day. After normal business hours, a firefighter was assigned and assumed the responsibility for dispatching. The communication section has evolved and transitioned from a one person with a note pad in an eight-by-eight-foot room, a one channel UHF radio system in the 60s and 70s to the addition of a four channel trunked 800 MHz radio system, a computer-aided dispatch system and basic 911 capabilities in 1989.

It continued to expand to today’s state-of-the-art facility with Enhanced 911, 800 MHz Smartnet radio system, and advanced 911 workstations. These workstations provide the dispatcher the ability to track and monitor a unit’s activities, answer incoming emergency and non-emergency telephone calls, view mapping (GPS) data to determine the location of personnel and their relation to active alarms, and monitor automatic fire alarms within jurisdictional structures.