Published August 16, 2017
In his 15 years with University Police, Dale Hohl says his years of firefighting experience are never far away.
Through three decades with Ellicott Creek Volunteer Fire Company, Hohl developed instincts as an emergency responder that have changed the ways in which he approaches emergencies as a University Police officer.
“There was a period of about 10 years where I was serving as an active firefighter while I was also working as a police officer,” Hohl says. “Being in the dual roles helped me specifically because I had all those years as a fireman.
“As police officers, we are responding knowing that things can go from zero to 60 in an instant. You don’t know what you’re going in to,” he says.
“Being a firefighter, and having been in those types of situations, made the emergencies I have responded to as a police officer easier to handle.”
University Police Lt. Kevin Will, who is also a volunteer firefighter, says experience as a first responder gives a police officer arriving at an emergency the ability to quickly assess the situation.
“Which means as you arrive on location, you are able to let the fire company know right away what the situation is, what equipment will be needed and give the fire chiefs a heads-up in how to plan for that particular incident,” Will says.
“That is what we call ‘scene size-up,’ which can save time and, more importantly, lives.”
There are also little things you bring from firefighting experiences to your job as a police officer, Hohl explains.
“Being a firefighter has definitely helped me personally to stay as calm as I think I need to be to be able to make rational decisions and make a positive outcome more likely,” he says.
“Matter of fact, a few weeks ago we had a bad car accident on the North Campus at Flint and Audubon. I was one of the first officers to get there,” Hohl says. “Unfortunately, Lt. Will was off-duty, but when I turned around and looked, there he was in the back seat of one of the cars that were involved, in his firefighter gear.
“We had not had a chance to talk about it right away, but I saw him right there, holding the driver in traction while they extricated her from her car.”
It was, Hohl notes, a perfect example of an off-duty University Police officer responding as a volunteer firefighter.
Will later said he had responded knowing that the accident was on university property.
Joshua B. Sticht, deputy chief of University Police, says there’s a high value to the university when officers have experience as first responders.
“In a situation such as that car accident on the North Campus, we had a response from University Police officers who responded both as police officers and, in the case of Lt. Will, as a firefighter,” Sticht says.
“The additional training you get as a firefighter in first aid, for example, is also very valuable for you as a police officer. Because as you are responding to a call, you never know how that situation may change or what you might be confronted with once you arrive on scene.
“The experience that you get as a firefighter, as a first responder, works to your benefit as a police officer by helping to shape how you are thinking as you respond to emergencies,” he adds.
Will and Hohl took different paths to their positions with University Police.
“I always had an interest in both firefighting and police work, and I had taken the civil service test,” Will says.
“I accepted a job in corrections, where, in addition to my responsibilities as a corrections officer and sergeant, I also served as deputy fire chief for my facility. I had been working in that position for a while when the opportunity with University Police came up.”
Will notes that since his position as a corrections officer was with New York state, all of the pay and benefits transferred with the University Police position.
“So that made a difference,” he says. “I also had opportunities to go out of town to be a fireman in other states, but the pay and benefits were not equal to what they are here in New York state, which factored into my decision as well.”
Hohl also took the civil service exam for both police and fire. “I was among many who spent time on the waiting list. But there were a number of us who took the opportunity to volunteer as firefighters during that period of time to get the experience,” he says.
“I continued to take exams, along with the others, so we could one day get paid as firemen, but I also continued to take the police exams. I was fortunate enough to get hired as a police officer here at UB.”
Will says having firefighting experience plays out in other ways.
“For instance, as a new officer, you are a bit ahead in having an ability to handle the stress, split-second decision-making and adrenaline rush that comes along with police work … any new police officer will confront those challenges,” he says.
“The heart races and the blood pressure goes up … for individuals in both jobs,” Hohl says. “That happens largely because of the situations firefighters and police officers respond to. You learn to assess these situations where things could change in an instant. Because they often do.
“The experience that you get from doing both jobs is invaluable.”
Both Hohl and Will say they’re in a win-win situation. “We are getting paid to do something that we truly want to do, but those of us who started and stayed with firefighting are lucky enough to be able to do the other job as well,” Will says.
Thank you to all the first-responders who help keep UB safe for its students, faculty and staff: UPD, Getzville FD, Buffalo FD & Hazmat, Amherst PD, Brighton FD & Hazmat and Buffalo PD!