This edition of Focus on Faculty features Fire Service program instructor Chief Chuck Kahler. After spending a long career in the industry, in 2016, Bates alumni Chief Kahler circled back to where it began 49 years ago.
Read his story below.
As far back as I can remember I have wanted to be firefighter, or as the term was back then a fireman. While growing up, I spent many hours visiting fire stations. After graduation from high school, I entered Bates as a student in 1970, and I joined the Federal Way Fire Department as a volunteer that same year.
The Seattle Fire Department hired me in 1972, and they selected me as a firefighter-paramedic in 1976. In 1980, I moved from the Seattle Fire Department and joined the Federal Way Fire Department as a career firefighter. Federal Way, like many of the rural areas, was becoming more metropolitan. Throughout my time in Federal Way and the surrounding King County area, I worked as a firefighter, lieutenant, captain, battalion and assistant chief. I spent 47 years in the industry, with 25 of those as a chief officer.
My teaching style is one that reflects back on nearly 50 years in the industry. During that time, the fire service industry saw dynamic and radical changes. It is not a matter of just presenting a lesson; it is how to apply that lesson to real life experiences in all aspects of our curriculum. Whereas our students our enthusiastic in pursuing their chosen career, they have not experienced firsthand what it is like. My role as an instructor is to create an environment that is as realistic as possible, and to apply what the students learn to specific situations.
My favorite part of teaching is the hands-on and lab portions of the program. Whereas the classroom setting is an important aspect, the real proof is how the student performs on the drill court, operating the equipment and using critical-thinking skills. As we say in the industry, “Street smarts is what matters when emergencies arise.”
Reaping the rewards
The most rewarding part of not only teaching, but also mentoring young firefighters, is watching the successes of those I have taught. My most rewarding moments are the times I hear from my graduates. To know that I truly made a difference in a firefighter’s career, like when they applied what they learned to a real-life scenario—that is most rewarding.
As I look back on my career, what I am most grateful for are those that took the time to be a mentor along the way. Moreover, not only those who worked with me during my career, but those firefighters who spent time with me when I was a young child. They molded a foundation that continues today.