All Fired Up
Bob Dietz believes in the power of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things – and he carries out that vision every day. As founder of the Fire Rescue Foundation, Ltd., he has dedicated his post-retirement life to equipping small-town fire departments with the equipment and uniforms they so desperately need. He is also determined to put former inmates to work, providing them with livable wages and a sense of hope, both of which are key combatants to recidivism.
In return, Dietz asks little – just the assistance of the local community and uniform suppliers across America, plus a grand salary of one dollar per year. The salary may be small, but as he explains, “the rewards are great.” He takes satisfaction in knowing that his efforts produce tangible results and bring hope to underserved communities.
Bob Dietz: A Mover and Shaker In EMS and Fire Rescue
Dietz has a long and fascinating history in fire rescue and emergency medical services. His family was heavily involved in the funeral business for generations and also emergency medical services, because they were “the only ones who had vehicles suitable for the purpose.” He grew up helping his dad with ambulance work and cultivated his innate entrepreneurial talent on his own time, mowing lawns as a side gig and later building an ambulance for his father’s funeral home company. This launched a long and very successful career in EMS, fire rescue and other industries. This impressive career culminated in the Safety Equipment Corporation, which had 2,000 employees at its height.
Dietz’s accomplishments beyond the Safety Equipment Corporations are too numerous to list in their entirety but include founding the Kansas Ambulance and Rescue Association, founding Wichita Central County EMS and developing the nation’s first ambulance supply catalog. He has also been heavily involved in local politics. He explains, “Prior to 1974 in Kansas, an ambulance was defined by law as any vehicle having a siren, bell or exhaust whistle. That meant that anyone could have a pickup truck with no topper and no stretcher and still call it an ambulance.” His efforts resulted in new laws on the books that required functional vehicles for EMS services. Now, the next step is to ensure that low-budget departments can afford these vehicles, as well as the high-quality uniforms they would otherwise be unable to afford.
Moving Into the Non-Profit Arena
Dietz has a long history of serving the community through volunteer efforts, but he is now ready to expand his reach through the Fire Rescue Foundation. The goal of the foundation is simple: appraise and refurbish used equipment and uniforms, which can then be sold to various departments at an affordable rate. These departments are otherwise unable to access the equipment necessary to protect the communities they serve. He and others involved in his foundation are “heartbroken that these small communities cannot afford fire trucks.” It’s easy to see why – a new fire engine costs well over one million dollars. Dietz complains, “If you’re Eureka, Kansas, how in thunder do you afford that?”
The refurbished fire trucks the Fire Rescue Foundation provides may be several decades old and may have tens of thousands of miles on them, but they are perfectly functional. This is also true of the turnout gear and other uniforms the foundation appraises and refurbishes. A typical small-town volunteer fire department simply cannot afford $2,500 for turnout gear, but it also cannot afford to go without, as uniforms provide not only protection against heat and falling debris but also the necessary sense of authority that so many volunteer departments lack.
Affordable equipment and uniforms are a cornerstone of the Fire Rescue Foundation, but Dietz’s other chief goal is convenience. He says that local small-town fire departments “want me in this business, and they want to buy their uniforms here instead of going to Kentucky. They want patches sewn on straight and if they aren’t right, they’ll be fixed right there on the spot instead of folding them up and mailing them back to Kentucky. Can you imagine going clear to Lexington to get a patch sewn on your shirt?”
With the Fire Rescue Foundation, Dietz hopes to provide a veritable one-stop shop for fire rescue, police departments and emergency medical services. He aims to provide everything from “uniforms to accessories to giftware to specialties to installation of the light bar in your back shop.” If a police car needs graphics or other essentials, he promises, “We’re gonna do the whole thing right on site. And we’re gonna do it all, 100 percent, with former inmates.”
The Economic Role of Well-Equipped Fire Departments
Dietz’s reach goes well beyond small- town volunteer fire departments and EMS. His foundation’s overarching mission is to revitalize struggling small towns, which, due to the sheer cost of fire insurance, cannot convince employers to invest in their communities.
With small towns unable to attract major employers to build factories and real estate, they are, as Dietz puts it, “dying on the vine.” Once they are properly equipped, however, they are finally positioned to attract the employers – and the jobs – they so desperately need. In this way, the Fire Rescue Foundation brings not only fire engines and uniforms but also hope to small towns across the Midwest.
Putting Inmates to Work
Through his emphasis on thinking outside of the box, Dietz has managed to serve two causes about which he is equally passionate: providing small-town departments with affordable equipment and putting former inmates to work. He is well aware of the role unemployment plays in recidivism and of the many barriers former inmates face as they strive to find decent work upon release. He is happy to put these individuals to work for his foundation. They are some of the hardest working and most loyal employees he’s encountered. In return for their hard work, he pays them fair wages and treats them with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Dietz’s faith plays a huge role in his work with the Fire Rescue Foundation and also has guided his past business successes. He claims that, “God has us crazy old guys around so that he can give us ideas to make a difference.” He intends to use those God-given talents to revive fire departments and, in turn, struggling small towns. “God has blessed me like you wouldn’t believe, and I want to give a little of it back.”
A strong faith is also instrumental in Dietz’s work with former inmates, who he instructs to read one chapter of Proverbs every day. He believes that Proverbs supplies exceptional life lessons for people of all faiths and that everybody can learn from its timeless messages. He also believes that anybody, regardless of whether they were incarcerated, can be rehabilitated via a combination of faith and hard work.
Next Steps For the Fire Rescue Foundation
After well over a decade of planning, the Fire Rescue Foundation finally had its official opening on January 2nd. The effort is just beginning, however, and Dietz has many promising projects in the works. He is in the midst of launching a national fundraising drive, which he hopes will bring both awareness and financial resources to this important cause.
Thanks to Bob Dietz and other hardworking, self-sacrificing individuals, the future is promising for small-town EMS, fire departments and police officers across the nation. Finally, these cash-strapped departments can afford the high-quality equipment and uniforms needed to keep the community members they serve safe.