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.


May: What lessons have you learned along the way?

Colburn: I have made so many mistakes in my career we do not have the time or paper to cover them. My advice to the young fire officer is to never compromise your integrity, listen before you respond, consider before you condemn and most of all, never ever lose your ability to show compassion to those in need. When I was a new officer struggling with a personnel issue, my Chief once told me something I have never forgotten. He said “no one is worthless, if nothing else you can always use them as a bad example.” I often wonder if he was referring to me.

May: What other organizations do you contribute to in Fire/EMS?

Colburn: I continue to very active in advocating for fire-based EMS and patients rights. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association; serve as a member of the Florida Department of Health EMS Advisory Council representing EMS Administrator for Fire Services and I’m an active member of the IAFC EMS Section.

May: How does Reedy Creek relate to other jurisdictions? Mutual Aid?

Colburn: The department has a good working relationship with the surrounding agencies and counties by participating in mutual training sessions, providing leadership in local EMS operations and advisory council meetings, and working within an established countywide EMS medical direction or protocols. Also, RCES responds mutual aid to neighboring counties and has established agreements to guide responses.

May: What does Reedy Creek do for disaster preparedness?

Colburn: While working under a comprehensive emergency management plan for the District, RCES is constantly working with the Walt Disney World Company and their stakeholders in Orlando. The emergency managers of each entity are consistently interfacing and participating in planning, table-top and full-scale exercises, as well as any specialized rescue or evacuation scenarios year around. RCES also reports within the Orange County and State of Florida Emergency Management structure during any major incidents or severe weather events. An all-hazards approach is the key to a proactive and reactive response to any potential disasters within the District.

May: What do you see as the future of the US fire service? Key issues, challenges?

Colburn: All fire and EMS-based agencies will need to always redefine or develop more “best practices” with their service delivery to the community. Reedy Creek has embraced this type of thinking and is constantly looking for ways to improve the guest/customer experience. Innovation should be the focus of any agency in the United States, both now and into the future. The common challenges or issues to be faced in the future will continue to be in communications, technology, funding and more importantly interoperability with local, state and federal entities.

See Ben Live! Ben May will be presenting "Strategic Brand Development for Fire and Rescue Services" at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, July 23 - 27.

BEN MAY, a Firehouse.com contributing editor, has been developing the discipline of marketing management for the fire and emergency services for more than 25 years. He has been a firefighter for Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for the Woodinville, WA, Fire and Rescue.