The Command post is the name of the Pub at the National Fire Academy. A place where you go to hear stories and tell tales. This page will be dedicated to our firefighters and former firefighters to give their unique perspective on the uniqueness of the Center Point Fire District.
Our first Command Post table talk is with Retired Battalion Chief Robert (Bob) VanHooser Jr. Bob VanHooser has been in the fire service through 9 presidents and six decades. “I started with Center Point Fire District in April of 1974.” Asked how this job became available, “Chief John Wallace was a high school friend with my dad. My dad started working for Center Point in 1972, and Chief asked my dad if I would be interested in the position.” As a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, he worked weekends at Station 2 on Pinson Valley Parkway for 10 dollars a day as a firefighter. Bob stated this was a lot of money for a teenager at the time, and he quickly fell in love with the field. Bob worked full-time at Center Point Fire District while finishing his high school diploma at E.B. Erwin High School. He also attended UAB’s paramedic program during this time and gained his paramedic license before graduating. When asked about the rigors of his schedule, Bob stated, “I also had a girlfriend. Learning to balance work and a relationship helped me immensely later in life. It was hard but focusing on my goals and pushing forward every day was what I tried to do.”
After finishing high school, Bob VanHooser joined the Navy and married his high school sweetheart Cindy Morrison VanHooser. After his 4-year tour in the Navy, he returned to Birmingham with a daughter and an amazing son. Another child was added three years later. He was offered a full-time position at another Fire Department and spent the next 21 years becoming an officer. Bob saw the benefits firsthand of training and education. “I saw so much potential in the fire service. I saw the job becoming a blend of white-collar skills with blue-collar hands. It went away from putting the wet stuff on the red stuff. We continued to gain more responsibilities, and it was our duty to learn everything we could about these new responsibilities.” Bob furthered this by finishing his degree from Athens State University and teaching fire science classes at Jefferson State. “I always felt that I had a job as a steward of the fire service. Through training and education, I was able to polish my craft and present it to the next generation as effectively as possible. The fire service has given me a career, put food on my table, sheltered my family for over 46 years. The least I can do for the Fire Service is pass the baton to the next generation by passing the history and the love of the job.” Asked how he stayed motivated, he gave an example “I had a firefighter that was on my crew. I kept pushing him to apply for the National Fire Academy. He told me it seemed like a waste to apply because he only had five years left before retirement. It just really framed a mindset that will make you miserable in your job. Five years left of a twenty-five year career is 1/5 of your career.” I asked him to expand on that. “If you are stagnant in this career, any career, you will be miserable. We need challenge and change to reach our maximum capacity truly. If you aren’t stretching your mind and pushing yourself, then you have already given up. He was a great firefighter, and he set an expiration date on his career. He lost opportunities because he used that end day as an excuse, not a goal.”
Bob VanHooser became the Chief of Training and EMS for Center Point Fire District in 2003. I asked him about his many titles in the fire service and how he dealt with the changes. “There are pros and cons to every position in the fire service. They all come with their own sets of problems and rewards. I learned a long time ago to be task-oriented and focus on the journey. I try to do whatever task is in front of me to the best of my ability. It makes you appreciate the opportunities given to you that much more.”
I asked Bob what makes Center Point Fire District different than other departments. “Family. I am talking to my son, a third-generation firefighter at the same department I started at as a teenager. The District has always put a premium on involving families. There have been so many family bonds throughout the history. Wallace, Coleman, West, VanHooser, Hunnicutt, Summerford, and Phillips are just some of the names that make up our history. Family is the key to our department. It always has been and always will be. It's not just those bonds though. It's the friendship and brothers you gain. Whether your time is short at Center Point or you are a lifer, the bonds you create will last a lifetime.”
Bob still works four shifts a month for the Center Point Fire District as a Post-Retirement employee. He has three grown children and five grandkids. He is now the training coordinator for Jefferson County 911. He told me that no matter where he worked, Center Point Fire District will always be home to him.