December 29, 2017

‚ÄčAs a contributing editor to Firehouse Magazine for three decades, Robert Burke has covered hazardous materials in depth.

Ron Gore and the Jacksonville Hazmat team
During his fire service career and into retirement, Burke has traveled the country to either research, train or write articles about more than 100 fire departments’ hazardous materials teams, including JFRD’s.

“Jacksonville is the mecca of hazmat. That’s where it started,” Burke said.

As an adjunct instructor with the National Fire Academy since 1988, he’s taught hazmat classes to thousands of firefighters. Burke has also studied and chronicled a variety of historical hazardous materials incidents in Firehouse, Fire Engineering and other publications. In 2009, Burke published “HazMat Teams Across America” – a 192-page book which describes the inception and capacity of 30 domestic hazmat teams. Burke considers the book as a resource for other fire departments to learn about each other’s hazmat operations. In the chapter about JFRD, Burke is quick to point out Jacksonville’s place in history and JFRD retired Capt. Ron Gore’s role.

“What is Jacksonville’s contribution to hazmat? I don’t even know what word to use,” Burke said during a recent telephone interview with On Scene. “It’s irreplaceable ... they started it.  And what they went through, there was so much trial and error because there was no precedent to go by. They did things so well under Ron Gore’s guidance. What he did is immeasurable. The contribution Jacksonville’s team made to the fire service is immeasurable, and we wouldn’t be where we are today nationally without them. Ron Gore reached a lot of people.”

Despite all his travel, Burke didn’t visit Jacksonville until 2007, when the Hazmat team invited him to its 30th anniversary celebration. Burke said he met Gore in 1980 when Gore was teaching a hazmat class in Arlington, Texas. Back then, Burke was as Assistant Chief at a mostly volunteer department in Verdigris, Oklahoma.

“That’s when I first heard of Ron Gore and the Jacksonville Hazmat team,” Burke said. “We were just totally impressed by his level of knowledge.” Burke invited Gore to come to Oklahoma to train his volunteer firefighters.

During Burke’s visit to Jacksonville nearly a decade ago, he said he noticed the spirit of hazmat innovation was still alive. He observed tools he hadn’t seen before, such as specialized clamps. He also noticed the tremendous variety of tools on JFRD’s hazmat units. “It looked like a hardware store,” he said.

Through all his contact with hazmat teams nationwide, Burke said that Gore is the foremost expert.

“I don’t think anyone could teach Ron Gore anything about hazmat,” Burke said. “That man has an amazing mind for teaching hazmat.”