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.


Colburn: The attention our employees give to guest service is number one, of course. This dedication and professionalism of all RCES personnel makes the department an industry leader in EMS and Fire Protection. There are other differentiating programs that make Reedy Creek Emergency Services unique:

  • Direct monitoring of fire alarm points
  • Water-based fire protection system inspection program (Reedy Creek hired licensed sprinkler contractor to oversee the inspection of all water based fire protection systems within the district).
  • The district requirement for detection and suppression systems is far more stringent than elsewhere. (Everything is required to be sprinkled – even lawnmower sheds!)
  • Training and preparation for simultaneous, multiple mass gathering events: an everyday occurrence at Walt Disney World Resort.
  • Enhanced 911 System – this system provides the exact location of landline callers, even those callers in hotel rooms. The Reedy Creek 911 Communications Center can easily identify 911 calls originating from a hotel room, including the name of the guest in the room, language that the guest speaks, room number, floor, building name and number, and callback number to the hotel room.
  • Massive public access defibrillation program and its unique tie-in to the 911 system. When an AED unit is removed from its cabinet, it will automatically dial 911 and identify its exact location to the 911 dispatcher. Units are immediately dispatched which provides for rapid response times and rapid ALS delivery.
  • Constant fire inspections

In addition to annual fire inspections as required by code, fire inspectors are also performing building walks and life-safety system inspections every other month. This practice has led to an extremely low fire loss record.

May: How is your training conducted?

Colburn: RCES has conducted internal regulatory and specialized training for responders; training is facilitated in several ways – in the classroom setting with interactive media and participation as well as hands-on exercises and drills. Emergency personnel at Reedy Creek train extensively on the unique responses within their protection district. EMS continuing education requirements can be accomplished via web-based and hands-on type of training. The training division is responsible with coordinating all aspects of training like EMS, Fire, Special operations, industrial, and more.

May: Do you have programs that train Walt Disney World Resort cast members?

Colburn: RCES provides American Heart Association certified instructors for WDW regulatory training with CPR/AED and first aid on a weekly basis. Following the terrorist attacks in 2001, our agency, in conjunction with local law enforcement, was instrumental in instructing terrorism awareness courses and field exercises to approximately 1,300 WDW security hosts. As a result of the many training scenarios and real-world responses, WDW and RCES have uniquely developed a Unified Command structure that lends itself to a more operationally efficient management of incidents across the resort property.

Reedy Creek also has an integral part the WDW “manager on duty” training class. During this class, Reedy Creek’s segment trains the cast members who are new to the duty manager role on how to properly access the 911 system, as well as how to effectively and efficiently interface with Reedy Creek at emergency scenes.

May: What was your fire service career path?

Colburn: I started with the district in 1979 as a firefighter/paramedic assigned to ”B” shift; yes I was a B-shifter. I continued my education and perused my passion of fire-based EMS eventually being promoted to captain of EMS. As an officer, I always wanted more responsibility organizationally and again I was promoted to assistant chief, deputy chief of operations and finally fire chief.

May: What is your leadership style?

Colburn: I am a servant leader; I believe that part of my job is to serve not only the community, but serve those who I lead as well by doing the best that I can do. You see, if I do my job right, I take care of my employees by providing them with the best equipment, good benefits, a safe environment and an example of integrity. I have just two books on my desk, Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual and The Bible and I use both of them frequently.