John R. Kowalski Integrative Marketing Fusion

Volunteer Fire Service – Critical Condition

The volunteer fire service in the United States is in crisis. Small rural communities are struggling to keep pace with the growing demand for their services, while at the same time facing a decline in the number of people available to serve as volunteers.

Volunteerism & Service – FF1 Complete

Good morning. As I reflect on this past week of a training coming to an end and a celebration of Firefighter I certification I keep coming back to the terms volunteerism and service. That is what it’s all about for volunteer firefighters. Serving and protecting your community. Helping people in need on their worst days.

Here is the text of my speech (part of it a repeat from my departments 2018 award dinner):

What a long road this has been. We started in August and I feel we could’ve spent a month on every topic. But this is the beginning. This was about foundations that we can build upon moving forward through ongoing learning and training.

As far as this speech… I keep coming back to one I made at my departments awards dinner as I think it fits this event as well.


This is our fire hall. This is our fire family.

We are members of a unique and special brother and sister-hood that goes back centuries to ancient Rome and even before that in ancient Egypt.

In 1666 the Great Fire of London helped standardize firefighting. In America, George Washington, the future President was a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia as a member of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company. Benjamin Franklin was also a volunteer firefighter helping to create the first fire department in Philadelphia in 1736.

The first known female firefighter Molly Williams took her place with the men on the drag ropes during the blizzard of 1818 and pulled the fire water pump to the fire through deep snow.

The first organized municipal fire brigade in the world was established in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment was formed in 1824. London was formed 9 years later in 1833.

The fire service is rich with history.

Firefighters have been helping communities and engaging in charitable causes through generations. An early example is firefighter Royal Tunbridge Wells. He helped raise money for widows and orphans. He used his dog ‘Jack’ and cat ‘Arthur’ to help encourage donations.

Signal Mountain, TN 2016

Signal Mountain, TN 2016

Speaking personally, I joined after the Gatlinburg fires… after our mountain, Signal Mountain was on fire. I still remember driving with my family on Highway 153 towards the mountain and seeing the plumes of smoke. Our mountain was on fire. At that moment I had to help. Not just something to do but a deeper calling from within. To help my family, to help my community. To protect us all. I am a protector. Maybe 6 or 8 months after that… I remember Lt. Clift say to me, “You’ve got the fire bug. I see it.” He was right. And that bug burns hotter now than ever. I’ve taken many classes, received certifications and completed the Firefighter I program. I plan to attend training, conferences and seminars. I’m also working on transitioning my career to help fire service organizations (but that’s another story for another time). I am a protector and part of the fire service and part of the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department.

Why are you here? Why are you part of the fire service?

Regardless of the fire service history and changes through the years and the reasons on why we are here. There is one constant thing that will never change. Courage, Compassion and Community.

This is our fire hall. This is our fire family. We are here to help our community. We are here to be an integral part of our community. And when I talk of this, I don’t mean just the members. I’m talking about everyone in this room – our families. They give to and help our community. They share us. When the call comes in the middle of the night or when we’re just sitting down to dinner, they share us and give to our community too. Thank you to my wife Brynne and daughter Sofia, and all of our families from the bottom of my heart.

This is our fire hall. This is our fire family.


So here I am with my new brothers and sisters. Our fire family. We made it to this point. We are here. Together. We have learned from the skills, knowledge and mistakes of our instructors. We learned that Fire is Hot. We studied, laughed, argued. All the things that brothers and sisters do. But we came together… eventually… as a team. We made it together and are now standing here in the proud tradition of the fire service.

I want to thank Rip, Jody and Nick. For their instruction, direction… patience… head-shaking… eye-rolling… all of it… Thank you sincerely from all of us.

A big thank you to Director Adams for his leadership, expertise and assistance. And to all the adjunct instructors who came down and gave their time to help us learn.

And the biggest thank you goes to our families. They have shared us. For the time away training and studying. For coming home exhausted with no energy for anything. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know it hasn’t been easy, so thank you.

In addition to the certifications I was awarded the prestigious Shane Daughette Award. Since firefighter Shane Daughettee’s death, this award is given to a fire graduate who demonstrates great leadership, attitude and dedication throughout the duration of Firefighter I class. This is truly an honor.

Here is a video presentation that the training team PIO put together showing some of our training moments. Enjoy!

State Testing, Ongoing Learning

Well… tomorrow’s the day I have my state practicals and exam for FF1 certification. It’s been a long road for me (and my family) that began in August. It seems long but the sheer volume of information and training was concentrated. We could’ve spent a month easily on any of the areas we covered. That’s why ongoing learning is always going to be a part of me and should be for every firefighter out there. To keep not only themselves safe but also their team and communities.

We had some ups and downs as a team but came together. We learned, sweated, laughed and crammed our heads with as much knowledge as humanly possible. So on this day just before testing I’m feeling confident. Casually reviewing my study notes, tying my knots and flipping through my workbook.

Here we go!

What I Do & My Many Facets

I was recently asked “what do you do.” After a bit of a laugh I went through the usual list of things. But as time went on, this question came back to me along with the thought to outline everything (and to maybe downsize). So here’s an attempt:

  • Family – A husband, father, son and brother
  • Professional & Day Job – Business Line Manager for BYK-Gardner, a testing and measurement company where I run (product marketing, account management, sales, marketing) their retail paint solutions – basically color matching hardware and software for retailers. It’s a pretty interesting position we were in when I joined the organization but now are on the cusp of creating something truly innovative and disruptive through software, analytics and hardware solutions. More information at
  • Volunteer Firefighter – I’m a lieutenant with the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department. In addition to the normal fire and emergency service responses I am our public information officer that includes media and public relations, grant writing, website, social media and events. Visit our department website at
  • Hamilton County Fire Training – Currently working my way through Firefighter I certification (complete end of May 2019). We finished our hazmat awareness and operations along with our classroom work. Since after the first of the year we’ve been working through our practicals on the drill field which include some live burning. And throughout the process working through our workbook and studying for the state exam. More info at
  • Babacita – This is my consulting business. Right now it’s focused on marketing for fire and emergency service organizations but depending on the client and my availability I can help businesses with their marketing, branding and strategy. On the fire side I’ve also developed an online marketing course that helps fire departments with all the various parts and pieces that include marketing. On my site,, there is also a blogwhich I’m slowly building content for and also a resources section where I list what I carry along with some other cool things. Here’s a link to the home page.

Other Babacita projects currently in various stages

  • BabaFireNotify – I’m currently evaluating the need for a texting system for fire departments to communicate with their communities for various warnings, traffic situations, weather, events, etc. Facebook is a great tool, but this is more direct and immediate. Would love to know your thoughts on this as I currently have a survey up where I’m collecting data. I’ve also started a gofundme campaign, check it out here if you’re interested in supporting this initiative.
  • Fire Department Test Subject – Looking for a small, rural fire department that could use some assistance in the marketing and social media area. On this project and as a test run, both myself and Chief Miller Media will be doing our thing and documenting it for a future case study. If you are a small, rural fire department in the Alabama area (just good geography for myself and Chief Miller) please reach out to me. We’d love to help.
  • Bug Spray – Yep, this is something I worked on last summer due to the increase in ticks here in Southern Tennessee. And believe it or not, it works! I use it for any outside work and have given it to several friends to test and everyone says it definitely helps! I have to find the time to make some more bottles and to get it out locally to potentially sell. The challenge here is finding a production partner to help me make the product. Still need to come up with a name and website for this but I have lots of notes and ideas. If you’re interested in helping, give me a shout.
  • GigLinx – This has been rattling around for several years and I’m getting close to securing a development partner on this. This is a web-based platform for independent musicians to assist in getting more gigs while offering a side to venues, bars, event planners, etc. – anyone hiring musicians – where they can find new acts quickly. The key thing here is an indicator that tracks the social media presence a musician has. Lots of other things here but if you’re interested learning more visit
  • Train to the Moon – Also, did you know that I wrote a book? Yep, it’s a short and inspirational story called Train to the Moon. Check it out here. I still have some hard copies left too if you’re interested.

So, in a nutshell this is what I do. What do you do? 🙂

Protecting Volunteers’ Day Jobs

One of the lieutenants at fire school sent this article onto me.

What are your thoughts on this? I know myself holding a day job when tones go out can be a bit tricky. My particular situation has flexibility but at times I’ve been finishing conference calls on the way to a scene and even shuffling things around due to personal reasons. I can only imagine those with jobs that you’re unable to leave and are simply stuck. With the US fire service made up of 73% volunteer departments this is truly an important issue.

Job activities can always be made up later with the priority above all being public safety. It’s good to see bills like this in Texas seeing the light of day. Take a look here.

What are your thoughts and/or experiences with juggling fire service and jobs?

Your Actions Represent the Brotherhood

Just this morning my wife had an unfortunate incident on a road near our home. The W Road down the mountain is a winding road with a good incline. She was following a truck loaded with stuff going slower than the speed limit. She remained about 3 car-lengths behind through the narrow curves. On one of the few straight-aways the truck put on his blinker and pulled to the shoulder as much as he could and slowed down even more as if he were wanting her to pass. She hesitated to make sure, he slowed even more so that’s what she believed he wanted her to do, so then she passed safely.

Upon reaching the truck and ready to wave a “thank you,” she was greeted with an angry man rolled down his window and started yelling obscenities. As much as he didn’t understand what she was doing or his actions miscommunicated to her to pass is there any real reason for this anger at a total stranger? What if she had been going to the hospital with a sick or injured child? My wife is the kindest, most loving and caring person you would ever meet. My response, upon first hearing this and to know that she was shaken from this event was to first lash out. “What an asshole! What’s his fuckin’ problem?” How hard must it be to go through life at that…. such anger at 10am. To live in that anger must be hell. But that’s not the end of the story, not the end of this incident.

She then said to me, “You know your firefighter license plate? The one on your car?” I replied, “yes.” She then continued, “He had that same plate. The same firefighter plate as you.” Then my heart sunk. This was one of my brothers acting like this. Representing all of us brothers and sisters bound together in the fire service. This action is a stain on all of us. We are better than this. We represent our departments, our brotherhood and the Maltese cross we bear.

When we wear a shirt, jacket, hat or vehicle decal, we represent something larger than us. A higher set of standards that meets our calling to help. Our actions speak to the public and our communities whether on or off duty. Be the high standard the public expects. Be the high standard that honors the brotherhood.

Listen to John on 5-Alarm Task Force

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Steve Greene of the 5-Alarm Task Force podcast and Dalmatian Productions. We discussed my philosophy and approach to fire hall and emergency service marketing and all of its aspects – image and perception, program planning, community education, fundraising and grant writing, membership and more.

Listen now, enjoy and share with your friends and colleagues today!

Be the Rhino

In 2017, 50 out of 87 US firefighters (that’s 58%) died from heart attacks. Though there’s no way to tell from the reports my guess is that the majority of these fatalities could have been prevented. As firefighters we need to rely on our mind, body and spirt to optimally perform and stay healthy. We all see terrible things and are under tremendous amounts of stress and all manage things in our own ways. Unfortunately, a lot of those ways include harmful things – fast food, alcohol and smoking just to name a few. And while it may seem to help with the stress it’s really only short-term and the longer-term effects are far worse on overall health.

And believe me, I’m no saint. Growing up in the Midwest it was meat and cheese. And since living in the south fried chicken is definitely one of my favorites (visit Champy’s if you get to Chattanooga). And at my age (pushing 50) my body is a bit squishy in the middle, recovery time takes a bit more and those daily aches and pains are gradually increasing.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called “What the Health.” See the trailer here. And it completely blew me away. What the hell have I been putting into my body and is now the time to do something different? At least try something new for better health and improved performance on the training or fire ground. Sooo… Mr. barbecue-loving, fried chicken-eating, cheese-dripping me decided to give it a try… a plant-based diet – going vegan.

That means and for over a week now I’ve been successful… eating nothing that comes from an animal. Not even my beloved cheese/spinach/artichoke dip.

But think about it. What are some of the biggest and strongest animals on the planet? Rhino, elephant, hippo, gorilla. They eat over 95% plants (the rest is bugs).

And I kid you not, just after a week of this my daily aches and pains have lessened, and I have more energy. Even doing some hardcore training drills I felt great and my recovery time was a fraction of what it used to be eating meat, cheese, eggs, etc. I feel lighter and more flexible.

I feel better. Physically and mentally.

And because of that I’m going to keep riding the vegan train. Not promising I won’t fall off here and there but at least for the next month I’m into it hardcore. I challenge you to give it a try too. For a week or two. What do you have to lose besides a few pounds and a sluggish feeling?

TED-Ed: Is fire a solid, liquid, or gas?

Taken from TED-Ed, a bit of education on fire science that you may know, may not know or just need a quick refresher.

From Elizabeth Cox, Educator:

Sitting around a campfire, you can feel its heat, smell the woody smoke, and hear it crackle. If you get too close, it burns your eyes and stings your nostrils. You could stare at the bright flames forever as they twist and flicker in endless incarnations… But what exactly are you looking at? Elizabeth Cox illuminates the science behind fire.

Watch the TED Talk here.