Nashville, TN, October 18, 2018 — Firehouse welcomed the four newest members into the Firehouse Hall of Fame during the fourth annual Legends & Icons program at Firehouse Expo.
The distinguished contributors—Robert Burke, Dennis Compton, Charles Werner and Mike Wilbur—were each recognized for their role in the forward progress of the American fire service, as well as building the Firehouse brand. To be inducted into the Firehouse Hall of Fame, members must have 20 years of service and demonstrated accomplishments in the advancement of the fire service.
“The four men honored tonight have served their communities for over a century of combined service, and their teaching and writing through Firehouse Magazine have prevented countless injuries and deaths,” said Peter Matthews, Firehouse editor-in-chief and conference director. “We thank Robert, Dennis, Charles and Michael for their years of dedication to making the fire service a better, safer place.”
Burke started his career as a volunteer firefighter and ultimately rose through the ranks to hold positions including lieutenant and assistant fire chief, as well as Certified Fire Protection Specialist, Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator, and Hazardous Materials Specialist. After studying hazardous materials incidents in depth in the 1980s, Burke began teaching hazmat and terrorism courses at the National Fire Academy. Burke later served as the exercise and training officer for the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program as well as a fire marshal for the State of Maryland. Burke began writing regularly for Firehouse Magazine in the mid-1990s and became a contributing editor in 1996, at which time he also began speaking at Firehouse Expo. During his career, he has published seven books on hazardous materials and terrorism.
During his acceptance speech, Burke explained that the first time he ever saw Firehouse Magazine was in 1979, and it became his dream to visit Baltimore for Firehouse Expo. His dream was ultimately eclipsed by an even better reality.
“I never dreamed then that I would be a writer for the magazine or a presenter for the show,” he said. “I never thought I would find myself in this distinguished group of people.”
Compton served as the assistant chief for the Phoenix Fire Department from 1971 to 1997 and as fire chief for the Mesa, AZ, Fire Department from 1997 to 2002. He is past chairman of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), past chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) National Advisory Committee, and the founder and facilitator for the National Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance. Compton began writing for Firehouse Magazine in the late-1980s and later served as a contributing editor, writing the Fire Politics column from 2004 to 2014. He also spoke at many Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World events. Compton has also served as the chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Board of Directors and as co-chair of the Fire Service-Based EMS Advocates Steering Committee.
Compton shared that he didn’t get into the fire service the same way many others do, dreaming of being a firefighter from youth. Instead, his career evolved more by happenstance after someone suggested he test for the Phoenix Fire Department. Decades later, Compton considers becoming a firefighter the most fortunate thing that has happened to him.
He added that there were many people who helped him throughout his career: "We don’t accomplish anything by ourselves—we are part of a team,” he said. “The people at Firehouse and the people who I had the opportunity to work with in my career … any success I’ve achieved in my career, I owe it to them.”
Michael Wilbur served as a volunteer firefighter for over 40 years and a career firefighter with the FDNY for 32 years. Wilbur was assigned to FDNY Ladder Company 56 and retired in 2013 as a lieutenant with Ladder Company 27. He also served on the FDNY apparatus purchasing committee, and led the state certification program for the FDNY chauffeurs school. Wilbur began writing for Firehouse Magazine in 1994, focusing on emergency vehicle operations and apparatus purchasing and specifications, and has spoken at multiple Firehouse events. Wilbur served on multiple IFSTA validation committees for the Apparatus Operator and Aerial Operator Manuals as well as on USFA committees on Safe Operation of Fire Tankers and its Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative. He founded his apparatus-consulting company, Emergency Vehicle Response, in 1996.
Wilbur shared that his relationship with Firehouse and Firehouse Expo has become a family affair, as even when he first started presenting at shows, his family would attend his sessions for support, sometimes sitting in the front row. He explained the pride he feels for his family, who was in attendance for the Hall of Fame induction.
Wilbur also reflected on the members of the Firehouse Hall of Fame and the one thing they had in common: “They took it seriously. It was never a job; it was a calling—a higher calling from God, a way of life. Being a firefighter is more than a job.”
He added that the Firehouse Legends and Icons each held the notion that one person can make a difference, and encouraged the younger generation firefighters in attendance to consider how they can improve the fire service.
“Who’s next?” he asked, wondering who in the audience may be a future member of the Firehouse Hall of Fame.
Werner started his career with volunteer fire departments and ultimately moved to the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department, where he served for 37 years, rising through the ranks from firefighter to fire chief. He was integral in the development of Firehouse.com and penned Firehouse Magazine’s first article about the internet’s impact on the fire service. Serving as a Firehouse contributing editor, Werner writes the Fire Technology column, and has presented at several Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World events. Werner has served in a variety of leadership roles related to interoperability, communications, technology, unmanned aircraft systems, GIS and homeland security.
Werner was unable to attend the event, so Firehouse accepted his award on his behalf.
The Legends & Icons event was held in the Main Ballroom at Music City Center. For additional information about Firehouse Legends & Icons, please visit firehouse.com/leadership/hall-of-fame.