HOMETOWN HERO: Bo Fitzgerald
Tell me about your day job.
To begin with, I’ll tell you a bit about what the Davidson Fire Department does. Obviously, if there is a fire, the fire department responds and puts out the fire – whether it’s a house, a vehicle, or a patch of grass alongside of the road. But many do not know about all of the other things we do aside from fires. Most of the calls that we respond to are actually medical emergencies. If someone is having a heart attack and calls 911, the first vehicle to arrive will usually be a Davidson Fire Engine and a crew full of Firefighter EMT’s. On top of that, we respond to water rescues, vehicle accidents, hazardous materials incidents, trees in the roadway, and about anything else you can think of.
I’ve served as the Town of Davidson Fire Chief since 2015. In a nutshell, I’m responsible for ensuring that the citizens of Davidson are provided with effective fire and rescue services. What this means varies from day to day. We have very capable firefighters who handle the day-to-day emergencies, so I typically don’t need to respond to calls unless it’s a significant incident or I’m just out and about. Instead, I’m busy with the “not-so-exciting” stuff like meetings and administrative duties. Much of what I do is centered around making sure that we have good people on our trucks, and also ensuring that they have the tools and equipment that they need to get the job done effectively and safely.
How did you uncover this passion?
That’s a long, twisted story, but here’s the gist. I was certainly one of the gazillion American toddlers who had a bedroom with toy fire trucks strewn all over the floor. And although firefighting was something that intrigued me all throughout my school years, I never really pursued it as a career option until I got to college. I arrived at Davidson College in 1995, sort of assuming that I would follow my father’s footsteps and become a Methodist minister. When people ask what happened, I often tell them that I started drinking and cursing too much and joined the fire department instead. But in reality, I simply got bored with schoolwork during my first year and was looking for an outlet. It just so happened that Davidson had an all-volunteer fire department at the time, and they accepted students as volunteers. So, I joined up at the end of my Freshman year, and it just took off from there.
What inspires you every day?
I think I would have to say that finding inspiration has never been a real problem for me when it comes to my role here in town. I’ve been closely tied with this town since my college days. I live here with my family (although my colleagues are quick to point out that I actually live in the ETJ). My mother lives here. My kids go to school here. Some of our best family friends live here in town.
Much of who I am today can be traced back to Davidson and the DFD – my education, my full-time career with the Charlotte Fire Department, and even my family (yes – my wife saw me on a fire alarm at the college 21 years ago and she was hooked!). I think as a result, I have always felt an intense sense of loyalty to this community, so inspiration has never been too hard to come by.
And to be honest, I work with an inspiring group of people. The men and women who work here are second to none in my book. They are extremely dedicated to their job and are good at what they do. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with them.
What are your challenges and speed bumps along the way?
There are always challenges. Dealing with growth in and around town has certainly been a challenge. As I stated earlier, when I joined the DFD in 1996, it was an all-volunteer department. But back then, we ran under 300 emergency calls each year. As the area grows, so does the call volume. In 2019, we ran over 1600 calls for service. So, the department has had to play catch-up in many ways. In the last 5-6 years, we have gone from a combination volunteer / part-time firefighting force to an all-paid department. We now have 9 full-time employees and almost 60 part-time members, including myself.
Another challenge associated with town growth involved geographical coverage. As call numbers increased, we realized that we had a major coverage problem on the east side of town. As a result, we built Fire Station 2 on Davidson-Concord Road. This drastically improved our response times for everything east of the Davidson-Concord / East Rocky River Road intersection. So, I think we have adapted to the changing landscape very well. And while it has been challenging at times, playing a part in getting emergency response to the level it needs to be at has been extremely rewarding for me.
I’ll add that it certainly helps to have town leaders who are supportive as you take on these challenges. Since I have been the chief, the town’s leadership – and I’m speaking here of everyone from the Town Manager, to the Town Board, to my colleagues on the town staff – have gone out of their way to make sure we get what we need. And that makes my job so much easier.
Secrets to staying motivated and positive?
Simply understanding that this is much bigger than me. In this profession, you are going to see lots of sad and tragic things, and that causes a fair amount of stress over time. And one of the things that has always helped me cope with that stress is the knowledge that the benefits of what we’re doing outweigh all of the bad stuff that we see. Occasionally, I’ll run into someone on the street or receive a note from someone who is only alive and walking around today because one of our trucks got there quickly and the firefighters went to work. I may not have even been on the call, but as the leader of the organization, that is a really cool thing to see. And I think that helps keep everybody going.
How can Davidson residents best support you?
This town has been extremely supportive of its fire department, and I will always be grateful for that. Its very common for citizens to bring things like food and “thank you” cards by both of our station. I have worked at enough fire stations in my career to know that this doesn’t happen everywhere, and it is really great to see.
I’ll close by mentioning that I plan to step down as the Davidson Fire Chief on December 1. As I mentioned before, this is actually a part-time position. I also work full-time for the Charlotte Fire Department, and as you can probably imagine, both of these jobs together can be a lot! I think my family would like to see a little more of me, and it’s time to let someone else take a turn! I feel very confident about where this department is going, and I know the town is in good hands! The past six years have been among the most rewarding of my life, and I cannot thank the people of this town enough for all of the support they have shown both for me and the Davidson Fire Department.
Andrea Nordstrom Caughey
Andrea Nordstrom Caughey is a magazine editor and lifelong writer who hit the jackpot moving to Davidson from California.