Many people use summer as a time to unwind and take vacations, but Columbus Fire Department officials have recharged their batteries by meeting with colleagues from around the country and letting valuable knowledge soak in.
Chief Ryan Gray and Assistant Chief Nate Jones back in May 2023 traveled to Marion, Iowa, to attend the Chief Officer Field Training Academy organized by well-known fire officials in Chief Rick Lasky and Chief John Salka. The two men have more than 80 years of combined fire-service experience in both volunteer and career departments in every role.
The conference walked Gray, Jones and other attendees through numerous vital skills and abilities that field chief officers need to be successful, aiming to serve as a guide for field chiefs.
“It was nice to sit in a room with like-minded individuals and actually reflect on how we currently run the fire department and what we can do to increase our effectiveness throughout our organization,” Gray said. “Nate and I come from different backgrounds, so having a conversation about things that aren’t guided by either one of us brings up topics to discuss … that’s how we change and grow. The change starts with Nate and I having those conversations.”
Jones said they both learned a lot by just hearing what their peers from other communities had to say.
“It was refreshing to hear perspectives of different people who are respected,” he said.
The CFD leaders were hardly the only ones to hit the road to learn and grow. They sent many members of their team to Grand Island earlier this summer for the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association Fire School, where they went through courses that focused on all phases of firemanship, fire investigation, rescue, fire safety, leadership, officer training, fire prevention and EMS (Emergency Medical Services).
“It’s close and it’s good training,” Jones said. “Our personnel were able to attend different classes and expand their knowledge.”
Gray said all CFD officials must have the chance to learn and grow from others, and take on those opportunities, because it only helps them and the department improve.
“Columbus does things the Columbus way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way. So having discussions with members of other departments and finding out how they do things is can be valuable,” Gray said. “We are experiencing the same hardships I’m sure hundreds of other departments across the country have experienced, so getting their input on how they’ve dealt with those situations is always nice. It gives us the chance to incorporate new ideas into what we’re doing.”
The fire chief stressed he never wants anyone at CFD, including himself, to feel like they’ve perfected things. Challenging yourself and evolving is critical in a career that requires you to be on point at all times.
“I never want us to get to a point where we stop looking to improve. Our goal has to be to constantly evolve into a better service provider because at the end of the day, we’re in a customer service industry,” Gray said. “Those who we serve are our customers, so anything we can do to save a life, be more fiscal responsible, provide a better service, or any things else, are just small slices of one big pie, and each one of those slices has a huge impact on the other. We have to keep growing.”
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Courtesy of and used with permission from Trina Osuna. Members of the Columbus Fire Department participating in the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association Fire School in Grand Island.)