Fire-Dex Blog

Rapid Fire Podcast: Q&A With Season 2 Host Andy Starnes


Tune in as Season 1 host Retired Battalion Chief Bob Keys passes the reigns to Battalion Chief Andy Starnes of Charlotte Fire Department and Founder of Insight Training. Join us as we bid farewell to Bob and get to know our new Season 2 host as he shares about his journey in the fire service and how he hopes to help make firefighting a little bit safer! 🔥    





Andy Starnes has been actively involved with the fire service as a volunteer since 1992 and as a career firefighter since 1998. He is a dedicated fire service contributor on many topics including thermal imaging, fire behavior, and terminology. Andy was also featured on Rapid Fire S1 E9! 


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Rapid Fire Episode Transcript:

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Rapid Fire, a podcast hosted by Fire- Dex, dedicated to sharing best practices and lessons learned in hopes of making firefighting a little bit safer. I'm your host, Bob Keys, Retired Battalion Chief from FDNY. We're fortunate to be joined today by Battalion, Chief, Andy Starnes of the Charlotte Fire Department. 

And he's also the Founder of Insight Fire Training that has taught thousands of firefighters, situational awareness, and the use of thermal imaging cameras. Chief Starnes will be taking over for me as host of the Rapid Fire Podcast series for the upcoming season  

Hello Andy! 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:00:34] Hey, Bob, thanks so much for having me. 

And, uh, I've got some big shoes to fill, so I don't know if I'll be taking over or just becoming a lifelong student and watching what everyone else teaches me on this journey. So I really appreciate your mentorship and all you've done for us through this process. Well, Bob, if it's all right with you, planning on doing today was basically interviewing you about the process, what you went through and what this meant to you, and several other questions, and we'll keep it informal as you always do. 

I love the style that you've brought to the program. It's very conversational. It's not scripted. And it really adds a lot of genuine nature to what the podcast is and how the guests conveyed their information. So we'll keep it that way if it's okay with you.  

And I'll start off with basically a simple question and it's probably got along the answer, but what is hosting meant to you for rapid fire and anything you want to add to that? 

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:01:29] Thanks, Andy, it's been an absolute pleasure, not only to share the wisdom and knowledge of firefighters and first responders that make a difference day in and day out. Getting to know people like the special agent in charge and the FBI, Chris Combs, uh, along with Assistant Chief Homer Robertson from Fort Worth as we talked about Fire as a Weapon, it was such an educational eye-opening thing. And the NFFF coming on with Ron Siarnicki and Joe Minogue, talking about how to hold honorable line of duty deaths during COVID-19 when we were socially distancing, but we still wanted to pay respect to our fallen brothers. 

 These kinds of people, when you get to really dig deep into what they do day in and day out, it's been an absolute pleasure as I said 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:02:09] I think you bring up an interesting point, too many people interview others just to get to their program or the things they've done. But you've focused on getting to know them. And that helps the listener to understand things as they say, intent is prior to content. 

So yeah, there's a lot they want to share, but who they are means a lot. So I appreciate you doing that. You talked to people and focused on the person more than their projects. That's awesome.  

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:02:35] And that podcast you and I did previously, uh, was exactly that. And I think our audience got to know both of us a little bit more deeply than, uh, any of the other guests that we had on there. 

You're sharing your personal feelings and emotions. I think lended to the credibility of what you and I both had to say that day.  

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:02:54] Yeah. And I appreciate that. That's like I say, one of the things I've really enjoyed about getting a note about you, wasn't just about sharing our backgrounds and our professional side of work, but who we are as people. 

So thank you for that.  

So I have a couple more questions for you. I'd like for you to kind of unravel this for me as we go through, you've shared about what it meant for you as far as the people and the knowledge and the wisdom and learning about those people. But what do you hope for the future of this podcast as it moves forward? Maybe some wisdom you can share with me and that process and what I can look for and try to do and help as we move forward. 

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:03:27] For sure. My goal with Rapid Fire has always been sharing lessons learned and best practices, but also getting to know people teaches culture. And we, as you know, traveling around the country, we have tremendously different cultures in the fire departments that we get to visit and get to know people and sharing that knowledge that each of these professionals have gleaned and take on to do their job. 

The best that they can is a great thing to be able to share. It's educating without sounding like we're really out there teaching. And that's very rewarding for me, whether it's from; how to do a ware trial, how to evaluate a new piece of equipment, or how to run the quartermaster system in Vancouver, where these guys are swapping out gear on a regular basis and have been doing it for a long time. 

It's just been rewarding to be able to share knowledge and be able to bring the fire service a little bit closer together. And I've all the confidence in the world that you'll continue to do that in this next series.  

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:04:18] I appreciate that, sir. Um, I need all the help I can get. So definitely we'll be picking your brain in the future too. 

As we run into each other in our paths, just like we did at FIERO PPE Symposium, we snagged the shameless selfie there and sent it to the Fire-Dex family thought that was the best way we could answer their request when they wanted to know something. So appreciate you humoring me on that one.  

And then that same tone as we moving forward. Know, I know that you've, you've got a lot of people you want to think, but if you were to thank the audience or in the individual, I'd like for you to have some time to do that and, and give you kind of a chance to share with the listeners, what's your future going to look like? What things are going to be like for Bob as a person? Bob the professional? 

Give us a little bit more enlightenment as you share your gratitude and where things are going for you. 

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:05:04] Well, I think first and foremost, I'd like to thank all of my guests that came on, took time out of their very, very busy schedules to figure out how to do this meeting with microphones that we're using and how to, uh, sit down and talk over preliminary discussions before going into doing the podcast has been time-consuming, but I am tremendously grateful for every one of them. I think we had over 20 guests over the past a year and a half, and I want to thank them one at all. 

Then I would also want to say thank you to the over thousands of people who have downloaded our podcast and listen to them and shared what they learned on the podcast with their colleagues in the fire stations or wherever they're working. Uh, also some of my neighbors just have, I've downloaded my podcasts and they've gotten to know me and my wife, Carolyn, who, uh, who's learned a lot about what I do by listening to the podcasts, especially the one I just did with Lieutenant Jim reading about how PPE has evolved since 911, all the changes that have come about, which when you put them down on paper, it's pretty amazing how much, just in 20 years, our personal protective equipment has evolved tremendously, and I hope it continues to evolve and yeah, as long as we continue to share what we do, know what we've learned about the dangers of cancer in the fire service about situational awareness that you do such a great job teaching people about. I think we will continue to make firefighting a little bit safer as long as we continue this dialogue and make the firefighting family a little bit safer . 

For me, my future is exciting. I'm super stoked to be transitioning from being a consultant for Fire-Dex for the last seven years and seeing the explosive growth of artists as a company, be now transitioning over to one of their premier suppliers, Milliken. Milliken is the maker of tech 10 71. FedEx is premier outer shell. 

They also manufacture TECGEN51, which is their single layer dual-certified protective equipment, Andy, that I know you were quite regularly in are fond of by Milliken also makes the Nomex substrates that are in our reflective trim. They're in the moisture barriers. They've been in our market for a very long time, and they're kind of a name that not many people know that much about. 

So I'm super excited to be able to get out there and teach firefighters about Milliken, about their capabilities, about the future of Milliken, which I'm super excited, it's going to explode on the fire scene in this next year and, um, to be able to continue to share best practices and lessons learned. And they do a wear trial with firefighters that I get to meet every month is something I'm really honored and it's a privilege to be able to do. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:07:26] That's awesome. And Milliken is an amazing company. You and I both know David Eskew and getting to know them and the wisdom and knowledge they share and just the fact that they're involved in so many different things. I had no idea that they make like one-third of the world's products and not too far from where I live in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where were you and I were pretty close to when we were at the FIERO conference. So what a amazing pool of knowledge and resources you're going to get to tap into and I'm excited for your journey too. Cause I mean, you already know so much and now you're going to get to be involved in this. 

They say that in life we're either learning or we're dying and you're going to be learning even more and being able to turn around and share that with people. So that's a huge opportunity as we talked about it, at the FIERO Conference is amazing what firefighters don't know, and it's our responsibility not to invalidate or intimidate, but to share that information in a way that helps them and as the motto of the podcast, make firefighters a little bit safer.  

So. I commend you for that. And I look forward to seeing what your future holds and hopefully you'll continue to share some of those experiences with us as we move forward.  

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:08:31] Thank you, Andy. Yeah, the Milliken is exciting company. Uh, they say that, uh, the average American touches a product that Milliken had something to make 50 to 60 times every single day. Pretty amazing for a company that not many people have heard of, but they were involved in everything that we touched throughout the course of our day.  

So Andy, now it's my turn to ask you a few questions, uh, so that our audience will get to know who the next host of Rapid Fire was going to be. Can you tell everybody when you became a firefighter and what does that journey look like to where you are right now? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:08:58] Well, I think there's different ways of looking at when I became one, but when I became one in paper, when I became one in my heart, and when I became one professionally, where I felt more confident that I knew what I was doing, but I knew that I had so much to learn. I think.  

When I was eight years old, I became more than my heart cause that's when I was chasing my dad around and going to the volunteer fire stations. That's how I got involved. My dad was always there and he was, you know, serving his community. He's done so much for the fire service from developing the first responder program to being involved in fire behavior work from before the UL and flow path, things were even popular. 

My father was sharing that knowledge and traveling around and talking to wonderful people who were doing the same thing you're going to be doing Bob, which is sharing that information. So that was how I got started. And, you know, I became a junior firefighter at age 16. Uh, started trying to get on with career departments after high school and from 18 to 22, I tried to try and try it and then got hired just before my 23rd birthday and became a Charlotte firefighter where I was considered a career firefighter then.  

But I honestly. Truthfully, you know, being brutally honest, don't honestly give myself the title at all, because I feel like you have to earn it every day, but I felt for the first time in my life, I felt like I was genuinely a firefighter. When I was working with the members of engine 2 from 2010 to 2018 was probably the most gratifying times in my career. And I was around firefighters. I was around people who cared. And to me, that's where it really clicked was being around people were family focused.  

They were, were skilled at their job. They really enjoyed it. I didn't care if it ran two calls or 20, but to me that was the time thing where I felt like, yeah, I've had the badge, but today, I feel like I'm around people that hold me accountable and make me who I am. And that's what keeps me going, is trying to be around people like that. 

So that's where my journey started. And now I currently serve as a Battalion Chief and want to talk about a learning curve and having to learn every day, feeling grossly underqualified every day I go to work. There's so much to learn and so much to do and so much to share. And they ask questions ,you don't have the answers to, and you have to seek them out and find those answers even when they're not readily available.  

You know, I feel like I'm always learning and I'll be learning until the day. The Lord calls me home. I always consider myself a lifelong student, but that's my synopsis of how I became one and what my journey looks like so far in that little snapshot there the past 30 years. 


Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:11:32] so I agree with you there. That firefighter was probably the most enjoyable rank. I remember clearly that I had the privilege to work with Deputy Chief Vinny Dunn, who wrote a lot of books on fire service, building construction for the fire service. And he would tell us new young firefighters that the best and the fire department is firefighter, the second best is deputy chief, so if you're going to study, study and get there, go all the way to the top rank, civil service rank and the FDNY I never made it to Deputy Chief, but I do look back on my career and know that the best experience I had and the most fun that I had was being a firefighter in engine 48, ladder 56 in the Bronx. 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:12:09] I could share a cup of coffee with you and listen to those stories. That would be good. Haha 

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:12:14] We'll do it for sure.  

So over the years have joined a number of organizations, including the IAFC the International Association of Fire Chiefs. I am a member of the IAFF, been a member of NFPA. All of these are, as you were just saying, educational processes, uh, sharing knowledge, learning, constantly learning. 

What organizations have you been involved in or are you a member of Andy?  

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:12:39] Well, I like to say it's a, it's a journey. So you start many of them and some of them you do for a season and some you continue in. When I got hired, I was a volunteer firefighter first and been involved in many organizations with that, but then involved with the IAFF since I got hired, also got involved with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, assisting with the stair climb committee for several years, did a lot of charity work with that and did stair climbing a lot myself until I started to blow my knee in half out of the game for a little while for me.  

I got involved in the thermal imaging side of things through an organization called Kill The Flashover, which is what my father started back in 2010, got involved in behavioral health work in 2010 also through my own struggles that I wish I shared with you a little bit in our last podcast and found in my own private organization where I try to help firefighters with the other side of things.  

I always say I'm passionate about two things, fire behavior and firefighter behavior. So it talked a lot about firefighter behavior, cause not too many people do and how. firefighters and company officers and chiefs that are struggling, uh, cause we all have the same burdens.  

Then I founded insight training in 2015 and I've been involved in a lot of things since then, but also one of the things I'm, I'm very thankful to be a part of I'm a board member of Five Alarm Task Force, which you may know is a podcast, but the Steve Green runs it strictly for one reason, it's a nonprofit to raise funds to help first responders to every podcast or every webinar. Anything that they do that funds are generated, the money is turned around and given back to firefighters or firefighter departments. There was a fire department recently that experienced a fire. We send funds for that. They, you know, if someone's been tragically lost or injured, we send those funds there. So my company supports that.  

So those are the few things I'm involved in, but I've learned Bob too. And I don't know if this is the same struggle you had as my wife politely told me. If you say yes to one more thing, that means you're saying no to us. 

I have to practice span of control, very tightly and focus on, you know, what is it? Say three to seven, optimal being five. I'm a three guy. I don't need more than three. I get outside of that. I started looking like the clown that I am, I start dropping things and missing things. So for me, each season of life, I should be involved in a couple of things, but not too many. 

So I do people a disservice by overcoming. I think firefighters have that, that principle in their heart, they can't say no, but in a way I'd rather have a hard "No" than a soft "Yes". So I know that that person's committed and able to do it. So I've suffered from that myself and I've learned the hard way. 

So those are the things I'm involved in, but right now is very, very heavily involved in Insight Training and basically behavioral health.I do a lot of that will help people get the help they need because I get the help I need every month. And I believe we should all do that. We were really good at running into the burning building, but we're not really good at sitting down and having a cup of coffee and talking to someone who's struggling. 

So I'm hoping before I leave this earth, I can change that. Having that tough conversation wouldn't be that tough. Cause conflict resolution is probably one of the biggest things we need to work on, but that's, that's my snapshot of things I've been in.  

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:15:46] Well, maybe you've already answered my next question. Uh, I was going to ask you, I shared with you guys what being the Rapid Fire Podcast host has meant to me. Maybe you don't know this yet, or maybe you do, but what are you most looking forward to do as the next host? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:16:02] I don't know if it's more to do. What's  more to me is the experience of looking forward to the education. 

I'm listening to the guest and I'll always believe that when you go to teach someone, you should learn about them first. So in this case, I'm going to call someone to interview them, learn about them. So I'm going to read about them. I read about their work and that's an exciting process for me. And then the fellowship and relationships that develop from that. I'm really excited about that.  

And more importantly, probably the biggest thing. Well, we help by sharing that information that someone else is listening, may not know. Maybe there's a resource. Maybe there's a piece of information, a piece of encouragement that they pick up from it that helps them help their department or they're able to help others. 

So I'm excited about that because my whole life is about servant leadership. As you read the book, The Five Love Languages, I'm a service type guy. I'm all about giving. So for me to do that is just another way to pay it forward. And I'm basically a narrator, if you will, on telling other people about the good works that someone else is doing. And that's, that's a pretty cool job that you've had. And I'm looking forward to taking the reins for a little bit. And, you know, as far as, as long as they'll let me in and seeing what we learn and what we hope to share through that as your motto is to make firefighters a little bit safer. But I think it will be so much more than that through this process. 

So I'm really excited about that. And, um, I'm grateful for the opportunity.  

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:17:24] I think you've covered all the topics about being a host and I get it!. I've, I've known since I first heard you speak, uh, that you're passionate about educating firefighters on health and safety. How do you yourself continue to learn and keep on top of the trends that you --and I were together at FIERO the PPE symposium, in Greenville, Spartanburg. I continue to learn through listening to presentations like those. Are there any other places that you find a great resource to keep yourself on top of all the trends?  

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:17:52] Well, it's a great question, but it's also a great challenge because you know, as much as, as I do our time is limited and where we focus our time shows our priorities. 

So I was able to have unlimited time. I would just spend all my time reading and spending time with my family. Cause I really enjoy that process, but we spend a lot of time answering. We spend a lot of times delivering services and doing. And the more we do that, the less time we have to study and absorb and reflect on that information. 

So for me, the challenge is having more time. To listen to people to learn, which is why I'm excited about this podcast opportunity and to sit down and be uninterrupted and undistracted and focus on a very long piece of work. But someone took their time to write a work on, you know, as after going to the FIERO conference, those people sit up there and they've spent their lives or probably took on someone else's work and then their life's work to do this research and no one's reading it from the firefighter level. Very few.  

Uh, remember when I asked them how many have read the FEMSA manual, and this are some of the most educated people in the room and only a handful of hands shot up? 

We have to change that. And for me, the most humbling thing is to realize that if they haven't read it, the majority of firefighters have it. So how do we change that narrative? And spend more time educating is a very, very difficult task because the world is constantly pulling on us, wanting our time. So for me, finding better ways to digest large amounts of information and smaller bits of time. And then for those who want to dig deeper and read that 700 page report, I'm all for that. But the majority of people are not.  

I think for me, it's a humbling thing to stay on top of a trend. No, I don't know if we ever stay on top. I think we do just enough to stay behind, uh, cause technology, and everything's moving so fast. So in order for you to keep up, you would be glued to a keyboard and a book and reading and absorbing and reflecting. You wouldn't have any time for relations.  

So I think it's important to balance that, but man, it's, uh, it is quite a challenge and I think you have to narrow down your focus. Like you're focused on that area you're going to be working on with Milliken and that area. So that's great.  

I have to stay focused on this particular area and I get easily distracted. You know, my phone goes off, as you said, or the email pops up, I need to put that away for now and focus on what this information is and how am my truly understanding as it was written, as it was intended and making sure I'm not misinterpreted or misconveyed it to that next person that may not have read it. 

It is a big challenge, but I think more of us need to take that on and encourage others to read the information for themselves and share it in a way that helps them. It doesn't hinder them or scare them away from reading it either. So that's our challenge is to not just have a skilled fire service but a knowledgeable and skilled, or what I call intelligently aggressive fire service. They need to know why they're doing what they're doing and I think that's our challenge for the next generation as well.  

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:21:01] Yeah. I agree with you wholeheartedly with so many distractions in our lives sitting down and reading is probably one of the biggest challenges for me and I've been a student of the fire service I've readmany many books and technical manuals, but I still struggle to sit down and read for even 20 minutes. But maybe the solution for that FEMSA manual is if they put together a video because we are all better visual learners, than we are a book learners.  

I know, just comes to my mind that Delta airlines got very creative recently in, in making their, uh, FAA mandated a warnings when of the planes about to take off, they made the video more entertaining with different props. I think firefighters would pay attention if we could make it more entertaining and not just somebody reading out of a manual to explain what that FEMSA a guide is all about.  

Maybe somebody will pick up that project. That's listening to us today and run with it. I know some really talented people that have watched some good videos on YouTube firefighters put together, there is lots of skill and art amongst our family. 

So last and not least, Andy, if our audience can take away one piece of advice from you, what would it be? 

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:22:06] Two words: stay encouraged. Because the journey is long as you know, and not everyone is going to appreciate what you have say, not everyone is going to value your work.  

It's kind of like the water bottle analogy. If you've ever heard it, you pay 99 cents for a bottle of water to gas station. Whereas if you're at a football game, that same bottle of water, same brand could cost you $5 to $10. But what changed? The location and its value changed because of that.  

So know your worth and be aware places where they value that information, just like you travel and share it because they value it. You hope that they turn around and do that. But staying encouraged during that timeframe. 

There's many firefighters right now that I've talked to across the country that are doing good work that are leading the change or the charge, if you will, for the next generation, their organizations not buying in, or even it's not even listening to them. 

And that's very frustrating, especially when they have the tools and they have the information, the data that shows just like you work so hard and talk about all the things with PPE and cancer prevention. And there are people still shaking their heads saying no. 

 And it's scary to know that people are ignoring data for whatever reason, whether it's culture or whatever it is. So those people that are doing good work, if I could tell them anything right now, don't quit. Stay encouraged. You have people around you that charge your batteries and keep you going. And when you think you are ready to quit, that you are just done. Throw your hands up. "I'm done with this place", "the fire service can have it". That's probably when you should dig in your heels and go the hardest from my experience, because as a firefighter of 30 years, I've written my resignation letter three times written it sat down, looked at it and realized this is a wrong thing to do.  

I'm calling, I'm letting someone else. If my pastor says they didn't steal your joy, he gave it to him. I was giving up because of people who didn't care like I did, and not everybody's going to care. That doesn't mean you should quit. Care! Because when this world quits caring, we're all in trouble.  

So firefighters care more than anybody else. So they do things that no one else would do, especially right now. So stay encouraged, get people around you that charge your batteries and keep you going that lift you up out of the ditch that, you know, hold you accountable and give you the words of affirmation you need when you're in that darkest pit to come out of it and show somebody else the same thing that you're doing. Cause I guarantee you you'll find the same people in the same different organizations with the same struggles. So I'd say that's the biggest battle is just get people to encourage you. 

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:24:51] Well, any, I can tell you that I am sincerely thrilled, uh, that you're going to take this ball and run with it and be the host of this podcast and continue to share the things that you've learned and your guests will share with our firefighting audience, because nothing will make me happier than to see the listenership continue to grow as it has over the first season. And I'll certainly be listening and you can bet on that!  

Thank you, Bob! And I appreciate your guidance. Don't be surprised when I've texted you or call you asking for advice. So thanks.  

Charlotte FD Battalion Chief, Andy Starnes: [00:25:23] You don't have a brother for sure.  

Thank you, brother appreciate it.  

Bob Keys, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief: [00:25:26] Thank you to all of our audience it's been an absolute pleasure and look forward to meeting up with you down the road someday. 

God bless.  

Thanks Bob. 



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Categorized: Bob Keys, Rapid Fire Podcast, Andy Starnes


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