The year was 1979.
The Pittsburgh Steelers broke my heart by beating the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, 35-31. Sugar Ray Leonard won his first world boxing title. And Tracy Austin became the youngest U.S. Open tennis champion at 16 years old — not much older than me, a fourth grader in Breckenridge, Texas.
That same year, Bart Humphreys began his career with the College Station Fire Department.
After more than 35 years of service to the citizens of College Station, Bart will retire on Friday. To put that in perspective, he served under six fire chiefs and seven mayors.
It’s hard to imagine CSFD without Bart.
I’ve known Bart for the better part of 20 years, and it’s easy to forget that this guy had already spent plenty of years performing EMS response and battling blazes in what then was a much smaller university town. But for the past 15 years, he’s been the official spokesman for the department, handling media requests at the scene of tragic accidents or fires that have at times attracted national attention.
Bart might best be remembered for the integral role he played during one of our community’s darkest hours. He had been the department’s spokesman for less than a year when Texas Aggie Bonfire collapsed during the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 1999. Twelve Aggies died and many others were injured, but Bart was a steady and reliable source of information for the national media and Aggies everywhere.
“If anything can be fortunate in that situation, it’s that (Texas A&M) took the lead on the public information,” Bart shared in his typically humble way as we recorded a recent podcast. “I played a part in that, talking about the rescue and recovery efforts, but I didn’t have to organize the press part of it — the media space, the press conferences and things like that. I was just part of it, talking about what we did as far as the rescue and recovery and that kind of stuff. That’s something I knew about that, so I felt confident talking about that and trying to express what was going on from that aspect. It was a big on-the-job training experience for me.”
Don’t be fooled: Bart has shared his experiences by training hundreds of emergency services and communications professionals since that tragic day, often pulling in news professionals who have grown to trust and rely on Bart to speak alongside him.
I’ve had the honor of working with Bart on both sides of this business — first as a news reporter who relied on him for information, then as a fellow communicator with the City of College Station, the City of Bryan or the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. I’ve learned an awful lot about crisis communications just by watching Bart: Stay calm, stick with facts, and if you don’t know an answer, find it in a hurry and get back with the reporter. Those are simple things that have to be done well.
While recording our podcast, I learned about the surreal experience of Bart’s first major fire; what it’s like to respond to a call involving someone you know; whether or not people still seek firefighting as a lifelong career; and if he thinks he can completely walk away from the profession that’s been so good to him for 35 years.
It was fun to listen as he reflected on a heck of a career, and if you click on the arrow at the end of this blog, you can hear him talk about it, too.
“I’ll still be around here,” he chuckled. “Maybe I can be the one who writes letters to the editor now.”
Director | Public Communications