Twice a month, we will utilize this blog to showcase some of the employees of Pocono Raceway. Today, we feature Dave Richards, our Fire Chief. Chief Richards began his role in 2015 and has three children, a son, Greg, who is married with two daughters who is a fireman for a ladder company in Manhattan; a daughter Amy in Lackawanna County and a daughter, Laura in Philadelphia.
Q: How long have you been in roll as Fire Chief?
DR: This is my second year as Fire Chief.
Q: How do you go about becoming the Fire Chief of Pocono Raceway?
DR: I was hired in 2001. Past Fire Chief O’Brien and I were state fire instructors and he helped me find the role here. Chief O’Brien knew I had a bit of knowledge on vehicle rescue and extrication so he asked me if I wanted to come on board here. Ironically, at the same time, I asked if he could get my son a job here. My son was a big Jeff Gordon fan, and he was eighteen at that time. Fire Chief O’Brien said yes I’ll get him a job here. At that time Firemen got a free pass for their guests. I came up the first race all ready to work, they didn’t need me. Second race I came up, I didn’t bring anything with me. Kevin says, “you have your gear?” I said, “No, you didn’t need me last time.” They put me to work, I got an orange suit from this guy, borrowed gloves from that guy and went to work, and fell in love. Through the years past Chief Davenport, past Chief O’Brien, they all had faith in me and they brought me into the ranks and put me on an extraction truck. They sent me and a few others down to the NASCAR Research and Development Center to become the Advanced Training Instructor for NASCAR. Then Kevin put me up into an Assistant Chief role. I’d been a volunteer fire chief for many years. With my experience outside the track, as a Fire Chief and State Instructor, Kevin had me moving up the ranks to become his side kick. In 2015, the track asked me to become Fire Chief as Kevin moved on.
Q: How would you explain your role as Fire Chief?
DR: The role of Fire Chief is very interesting because I’m not only responsible for race cars on the track, but inside the facility I’m going to be the go-to guy for any safety issues. Whether it’s in the infield, a grandstand issue, racing surface issue, it’s going to come to me. My responsibility for all three race weekends, NASCAR and IndyCar, is that everyone that works in track services, fire, EMS, restoration and recovery are trained properly to the level those organizations want us trained to. That’s why we do the yearly hands on training.
Q: Describe the training you go through
DR: Every year our people are required to take our annual hands-on training and that is a must. If they can’t do it here, they can go to any sanctioned track in the nation. The training program is typically a camp program. You can take and run with the program, or, you can extend the program, but you can’t take away from it. All of our people have to take online classes through the NASCAR Learning Management System. All of our new people have a set of classes they must take. Our seasoned people, no matter how long they’ve been here, have to take race car familiarization because the vehicles change so much, radio etiquette, because radios are important, race weekend, the online course in their discipline, such as pit road, restoration, extrication, and one other course they feel would be relevant to what they do. We find that most people take all of the courses because they are online, not long, and you are accredited when you take the course. The neat thing about that is, if we have a rain day and I am in need for people, and John Doe from Dover says he has experience in say extraction and I need a guy for Monday’s rain date that can work an extrication truck, I can go in to the Learning Management System and see if he has taken the proper training. That falls under my umbrella for the big race weekends.
Q: How many people are on your work roster?
DR: On our roster, we have 240 folks we rely on for a race weekend. For lease events, we have about 40 guys I can pull from. They’re all unique in their own way, some are retired people, some are in jobs that allow them to have days off during the week, some are college students, some are people that own their own businesses. We set this schedule up a month and a half in advance, so today when I go back out to the firehouse, it’s May 6, I’m working on the schedule for June, so that I can push the new calendar out. This way I can see who’s available, get the list together and send it out.
Q: What does the staffing for Track Services look like for NASCAR weekends?
DR: For NASCAR weekend Track Services will put out about 260 guys. One hundred and forty four NASCAR radios, and one hundred and fifteen Pocono Radios. Throw in the five women in the fire house that help with uniform distribution it gets up to 250, 260.
Q: Is there 24-hour-a-day support for race weekends?
DR: We have 24 hour support. Our group will start roughly 4:30 a.m. until about 7 p.m. Then we have a crew that comes in Thursday night at 7 p.m. and works until 7 a.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We call them Night Fire, they ride in one of the Class A Fire trucks. That’s our fire protection at night. If something happens, Pocono Tower calls them, they go to the scene and at the same time if deemed necessary, the Tower will call Tunkhannock Township which is the authority having jurisdiction. Inside here I’m the go to guy. We had a drill Monday night, we brought in aerial trucks to see if we could do evacuations off the back of the grandstands. Byron Witt, who works for George part- time here, is the township Fire Chief, he’s the authority having jurisdiction.
Q: Are you a race fan?
DR: Yes. I was a little bit when I was younger. Now I DVR the races. I watch the safety teams. I’ll see that guy has the extinguisher up on the wall, I’ll watch how ABC raceway, when they get out of the truck they hustle. Then I watch our guys, and I’m proud to say I really don’t have any complaints. I’m happy with what we do. We’re looked up to for being an independent. We’re looked up to by our buddies in Daytona, Charlotte, Dover, Talladega, New Hampshire. We’ve been invited there and they come here for training days, hands on day. Our cut car, the training car we use for extrication, Sonoma asked for pictures of how we had our cut car set- up and how we did that. I sent them pictures and they were fabricating their car to echo ours so to speak. We’ve been to Daytona, Talladega the relationship between the Fire Chiefs, the Operations guys of those tracks, it’s amazing. I have a paper in my truck now asking if I want to work at New Hampshire. When we go to the NASCAR Summit, we are all together on a friendly basis. Our family is a good big family, but the whole NASCAR world. So yes, I am a fan. When I watch a race I’m looking to see who it is I know. It’s kind of neat I could watch a race with my daughter and son-in-law and say I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy. My only regret is I wish I was a lot younger. I would love to do this forever.