Flowers officially named Washington’s newest Fire Chief

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

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Twenty-four years ago, R.M. Flowers responded to his first call of thousands as a firefighter in Washington. Since his first call, he has watched people be brought back to life by emergency medical personnel, delivered a baby on a hot summer day and was incident commander during a fire that took 12 hours to extinguish. 

All of those events have led to his promotion as the City of Washington’s Fire Chief. On Friday, July 21, the city announced Flowers had been promoted after serving as interim Fire Chief for 15 months. He follows Mark Yates who retired in April of 2022 after 26 years of service. 

Flowers is a Belhaven native and the son of retired Volunteer Fire Chief Ronnie Flowers. As a kid, he watched his father respond to calls which inspired him to become a firefighter.

“I’ve known since my earliest memories that I wanted to be a firefighter…I knew that’s what I always wanted to do,” Flowers said. “I’m very fortunate to follow my father’s footsteps.” 

Flowers’ father was “elated” upon hearing his son would officially become Fire Chief. Flowers’ father is “proud” of him, Flowers says. 

Flowers believes that if a person loves what they do then they’ll never work a day in their life. 

“I’m very fortunate to have a career doing what I really love to do,” he said. He still loves his job even on days when it is challenging. 

On good days, firefighters see the positive impact they make in citizen’s lives, but with good days comes just as many bad ones with devastating scenes. 

Those good days can include seeing people revived by emergency medical personnel. 

“As part of a crew, you’re bringing them back to life. It’s really cool to see people that you know for a fact that you had a hand in bringing them back to life…That’s the best part of the job. That’s our return on investment and seeing people like that,” Flowers said.  

“When you get to [a scene] and they’re dead and you and your crew do everything in your power and the next thing you know they’re alive. Then you see them in the streets somewhere or they swing by to say thank you, that’s the memorable thing. You can’t put a price on that.” he continued. 

The bad days can include telling people that their loved ones did not make it or seeing horrific scenes involving children. 

Flowers said it can be tough to balance good days and bad days. “You can never forget it. You just have to be able to – you can’t rationalize it – you just have to be able to, as bad as it sounds, put it in the back of your brain and just keep moving forward. If you let stuff like that eat at you, you’ll never made it in this career,” 

“I’ve had some awful calls especially with children that I can vividly remember every aspect of the call, but you just have to put  it in the back of your brain and keep moving forward because the next person that calls you needs you just as bad as that kid needed you,” Flowers said.  

Flowers shared two memorable moments from his career thus far – delivering a baby and a fire that took 12 hours to extinguish. 

On a hot summer 15 years ago, as temperatures boiled over 100 degrees, Flowers helped to deliver a baby on the bottom step of a home that had no air conditioning. 

“It was 100+ degrees outside and she was upstairs, in a far bedroom, no air conditioning in the house and she says, ‘I’m going to have this baby’ and I looked at her and said, ‘no you’re not. Let’s hold on a minute,’” Flowers shared, laughing as he told the story. “Anyway, as we got to the bottom of the steps, she says, ‘here it comes,’ and I just reached my hands out and I delivered the baby at the bottom of her step.” 

In 2014, about six years after delivering the baby, Flowers was one of the first people to respond to a fire that devastated First Christian Church on East Second Street. 

Flowers believes it was one of the biggest fires in the city’s recent history, and estimated it did between $4 million and $5 million worth of damage. 

“I was the first one there and was the incident commander…That was definitely the biggest fire I’ve been in command of anyway,” he said.  

Reflecting on his career, the one piece of advice Flowers would give his younger self is,  

“Go to medical school,” he joked at first but then continued to say that consistent training is key. 

“Being a firefighter, you’re a lifelong student,” Flowers said because firefighters are required to have regular training. He added that it’s important to take advice from older, more experienced firefighters. “Never stop training and always be willing to take advice from the seasoned veterans.” 

After reminiscing, Flowers shared what’s in store for the fire department’s future. 

He shared that last year, Washington City Council approved a separation between the fire rescue division and the rescue emergency medical service division. Before their vote, firefighters also operated as emergency medical service personnel.

“With the growth around town, us having two divisions really helps being able to put the right people in the right places,” Flowers said. He believes this separation will help move the fire service into the future. 

This year, Washington City Council also approved a request to hire four more emergency medical service employees. Flowers said the department is currently in the hiring phase for those future employees. This will bring the total number of employees to 42. 

“Although we are a smaller department, we’re a young department but I would put our firefighters against anybody simply due to the training that we do,” Flowers said. He explained the training is crucial, because they do not have the same amount of resources as larger departments; therefore, Washington firefighters have to do more with less. “Our department is capable. We’re well trained, highly motivated and ready to do whatever task comes before us.”