Mike Donoho says he became a firefighter “by accident,” but his modesty doesn’t belie the hard work, dedication, and training it took to climb to the rank of Fire Chief with the Bryan, Texas, Fire Department.
From his office at the Central Fire Station, Donoho is quick to credit his 24-year association with the TEEX fire training program with helping him reach his career goals.
Donoho says it was serendipity that caused him to register for a fire training class at Blinn College in 1977, but once the spark was lit, there was no putting it out. He made friends with several firefighters in the class, and they encouraged him to take the Bryan Fire Department entrance exam, which he passed. Then, in 1978, he graduated from the 23rd Fire Recruit Training Class at TEEX.
After graduation, he continued to work for TEEX as a maintenance technician at the Brayton Fire Training Field when he was off-duty from the Bryan Fire Department. And by the 34th recruit class, he was an instructor in the recruit academy, a role he continued for several years. Last summer marked the 25th year he has served as a guest instructor or staff member at the Municipal Fire Training School.
“It’s great to know that we have one of the best facilities in the world in our backyard. It’s a bird’s nest on the ground having TEEX close by. I still consider myself a part of it all. They share information with me, plus provide a lot of training for Bryan emergency responders.” And, he added, emergency responders today need more specialized training and equipment than ever before. “We’re doing so many things we didn’t do 24 years ago.”
Donoho is also a safety officer for TEEX-sponsored Texas Task Force 1. “To be a part of that group is truly an honor,” he says. “When I became a Bryan firefighter 24 years ago, I would never have thought I’d be responding to a terrorism incident in New York City.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and the biggest emergency response in the United States. I feel good about the team’s response and what we accomplished. There was so much destruction and heartache, but I’ll also remember the acts of human kindness and respect.”
The deaths of emergency responders in New York was tragic, but Donoho says, “They did what they were trained to do.
“I don’t think much has changed in the fire service since September 11,” he added. “The danger has always been there, but now we try to evaluate the situation more before we rush in.”
Yet, it was a firefighter’s death in 1978 that almost made Donoho leave the fire service.
He had been with the Bryan Fire Department for about six months when a firefighter died in a fire at the Tropicana Apartment Complex. “It scared me to death,” he says. “But then I thought, maybe we can do things differently and improve safety.” It made him a staunch supporter of coordinated command.
“Perhaps the biggest change in firefighter safety is the incident command system,” he says. “It looks like chaos to an outsider, but it is coordinated chaos. There is accountability. When we responded to Bonfire, along with College Station firefighters, we fit right in and everyone worked well together because College Station had set up the Incident Command System.”
But the Incident Command System is just one of the changes he’s witnessed. The Bryan Fire Department has come a long way in 24 years, he says. “We’ve changed from just a fire department to emergency services as a whole. Now we offer advanced life support and use the best pre-hospital protocols in the nation.
“I’m proud to be a firefighter and to be associated with the emergency services,” he says. Firefighting is a family and a brotherhood. I truly believe in that. I could go to any firehouse in the state and fine someone I know because of my association with TEEX.”
So perhaps it was not an accident, but destiny that brought Donoho to the job he loves. “I’ve been very fortunate to do all the things I’ve done. I couldn’t have asked for a better job. I love what I do.”