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.


The communications section serves as the initial link between the emergency services department and the public. The center is the public safety answering point (PSAP) for all calls to 911 within the district's jurisdiction. In 2008, the communications section received and processed more than 250,000 incoming telephone calls, of those calls, more than 32,000 resulted in a response of emergency services personnel. 

The section also serves as the monitoring station for all mechanical alarms that are received via an area-wide automatic monitoring and control system (AM&CS) that monitors 6,000 alarm points throughout the district. Other responsibilities of the center include tracking the activities of fire safety inspectors and operations personnel during inspections and daily activities, as well as supporting the inspection process by providing alarm readouts and confirmations during testing. 

The communications center utilizes an Enhanced 911 program that not only provides the name, address and telephone number of the caller, but when involving a hotel property, it displays the number of people staying in the room and the native language of the guest. This provides valuable information to the communicator, who then is able to determine the exact location of the caller and if an interpreter is needed. 

All communications personnel are trained in emergency medical dispatching (EMD). This training provides the communicator the skills and ability to give potential life saving pre-arrival instructions to 911 callers. Also, in 2006, the Communications Center became the first Center in the Central Florida area to become accredited through the National Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatch, a distinction only held by 110 centers throughout the world. This accreditation demonstrates the center’s commitment to excellence in handling emergency calls and that the staff takes pride in their consistent level of service. 

The communications center is staffed with one assistant chief who provides administrative and technical oversight for the Center, two assistant supervisors assigned to rotating shifts not only to provide training and quality assurance reviews, but to work a console as well, and 14 communicators providing 24-hour a day, seven days-a-week coverage.

May: What type of special operations support do you have?

Colburn: After the events of Sept. 11, RCFD made a decision to develop its own Special Operations and Response (SOAR) Team to meet the needs of our community. This move was to establish a timely response for detection and mitigation of hazardous situations without relying on, or depleting our neighbor’s resources. The SOAR Team currently consists of 36 selected and trained personnel. In-depth training of SOAR personnel was conducted to ensure their compliance and proficiency as hazmat technicians, and in the monitoring and detection of chemical and biological agents, and mass decontamination. Training in other associated disciplines such as, but not limited to, rope, collapse, water rescue, trench rescue, and confined space, continues as the SOAR Team works and establishes relationships with other emergency service providers.

Over the last 40 years, emergency services has continued on its track as an industry leader in incident stabilization and property conservation through its service delivery, while maintaining life safety and customer service as its top priority. Our success has been, and continues to be, based upon our commitment to governmental excellence as shown through the hiring and retaining of well-trained personnel, providing effective and efficient emergency and non-emergency services and unparalleled inspection practices.

May: Explain the relationship and process whereby RCES and Walt Disney World Resort work together.

Colburn: The relationship with Walt Disney World Resort is a symbiotic one for RCES. Although there is a definite line between private and public, operationally there are daily opportunities to foster good working relationships between the guests and cast members. The areas that RCES & WDW continually interface are regulatory training, project reviews, intelligence or security information gathering, anti-terrorism training and awareness, communications and emergency management planning.

May: What are the keys factors that make RCES different and better?