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Thank you for visiting Situational Awareness Matters! I’m Rich Gasaway and I am a speaker, author, blogger, podcaster, researcher and consultant. I have been a fire and EMS provider for my entire adult life. I started as a volunteer for the Weirton Heights Volunteer Fire Department in Weirton, West Virginia in 1979. As I tell my kids now… it was so far back the Internet wasn’t even invented yet. For some reason, they find that much more entertaining than I do.
Anyhow, soon after joining the fire department I joined the Weirton Area Ambulance and Rescue Squad and became an EMT-Paramedic. In the fall of 1979 I started on my educational journey at West Virginia University as a business administration major. While I was in Morgantown,
I joined two emergency services organizations: Monongalia County Emergency Medical Services and the Star City Volunteer Fire Department. I was serving on four departments at one time. Two agencies while in school during the week and two agencies while at home on the weekends, holidays and summer break. I loved it!
What can I say. I was consumed by the opportunity to learn, the excitement and the action that came with being a first responder. I had no idea how those experiences would shape my life, my family and my future. After graduating from West Virginia University in 1983 with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics I returned to my home town and went to work in banking. After a very short stint at a local hometown bank, I landed a job as a Management Associate for Banc One Corporation.
This was an awesome experience and I had great bosses who taught me a lot about how to run a business and deal with people. In my short (six-year) tenure with Banc One I was promoted three times and ended up in Columbus, Ohio. While working for Banc One I went to night school and earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Dayton. After completing the MBA I realized that banking wasn’t for me and I was being called back into public service.
In 1990 I was hired as the career fire chief in Springfield Township, Ohio. The elected officials in Springfield had just completed a management needs assessment of the fire department and determined new leadership was in order. I knew the department presented many opportunities to try new and innovative things. As a candidate for the position, my credentials included 10 years of solid fire/rescue/EMS experience, an MBA, six years in banking.
But I was 28 years old. Looking back, I’d say I might have been a little ambitious to take on an organization that had so many challenges at such a young age. But, nonetheless, I ensured and we did make many wonderful improvements in the department’s service delivery to the community. The credit goes to the very talented and motivated men and women who served the Springfield Township Fire Department. I don’t think I was always on their list of favorite bosses, but I always respected them for their candor and passion. In their hearts, I believed that most of them were there for the right reasons and it was a pleasure to lead them for 10 years.
In 1999, I was contacted by a long-time friend who had moved to Minnesota and was working for the state’s Fire-EMS-Safety Center. He told that Roseville was looking to hire their first full-time fire chief and I should consider applying. I didn’t know anything about Roseville, or Minnesota for that matter. And I wasn’t looking for a new job. But I applied on his urging. I told my wife I was “testing my marketability.”
I felt more qualified and prepared to lead this department, coming off 10 years of leading an organization through some challenging changes. I got the job and I assumed my role as the first full-time fire chief in Roseville, Minnesota in July 1999. It was a very enjoyable opportunity to lead some great service providers. While the job was fun, the politics were brutal as our City became known throughout the Metro as having a very dysfunctional city council.
This contributed to me doing some soul searching about my future as a public employee. In addition to serving as a firefighter, paramedic and a fire chief for 25 years, I had also been an instructor since the mid 1980s and really enjoyed teaching first responders, especially on leadership and safety topics. I really feel accomplishment and fulfillment when I am sharing my knowledge with others.
But I knew to achieve everything I wanted as an instructor, speaker and consultant I would need to go back to school. So, I enrolled in a Doctor of Philosophy program at Capella University. That was a long, five-year journey. Because my research topic revolved around the neuroscience of decision making I had to study a lot of “B.S.” (Brain Science). It was an epiphany for me to learn that decision making in high stress environments was more a neuroscience topic than a leadership topic.
The time commitment it took for me to earn a PhD was beyond all my comprehension. It’s not something I would recommend for everyone unless you’re willing to set aside a significant portion of your life. But I endured and in 2008 I become Dr. Gasaway. It was a very proud moment for me. Then, on the completion of my 10-year anniversary as the fire chief in Roseville, I left and embarked on my new journey to expand my work on situational awareness, high risk decision making and leadership.
I launched the Center for the Advancement of Situational Awareness and Decision making, and created the Public Safety Laboratory. In 2012 I launched this website, Situational Awareness Matters! I honestly think there were some people who thought I was crazy for leaving my job as a fire chief. I’m convinced the move caught some of them off-guard. Those who were surprised hadn’t spent much time in close proximity to me and knew little of my life’s ambitions and passions.
In my capacity now as a instructor, keynote presenter, facilitator and researcher I have presented on safety and leadership topics to more than 67,000 students worldwide. It feels good… really good… to give back all that I have learned over my three decades of service and through my educational endeavors.
Please let me know what I can do to help you and your company, organization, association or department find success in improving safety or leadership.
Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, Fire Chief (ret.)
Personal website: www.RichGasaway.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/SAMatters
LinkedIn: Rich Gasaway