A firefighter shares his memories of the Ott House Pub

I have spent over 180 days over the past 24 years with firefighter friends, sharing war stories and family updates, and gaining knowledge at the Ott House Pub in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

I am a resident of Frederick County, home of the National Fire Academy (NFA) and the Ott House Pub. I worked 20 years for the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Division and retired April 1, 2018, at the rank of Captain. I’ve taken over 60 courses at the NFA over the years.

During class, I always told everyone to make sure they went to the Ott House Pub at least once during their time at the NFA. Why? The Ott House Pub has become the local eatery for anyone connected with the NFA, instructors and students. Bobby Ott, the owner, and all the staff make everyone feel at home. Ott House Pub is a place where you can find firefighter patches from around the world. There’s a brotherhood you feel as soon as you walk through the door – that of the firefighters and the locals who can’t wait to talk to you!

The author with Mike Sinsigalli and Martin King at the Otts House Pub.

The author with Mike Sinsigalli and Martin King at the Otts House Pub. (Photo/George Thomas)

Lasting friendships formed

I spoke to Hong Kong Fire Department Deputy Chief Shane Lo, now retired. He enjoyed the atmosphere and eating American food. He told me how proud he was of the fireboat he had just bought for the Hong Kong Fire Department, and told me about his family and how proud he was of them . He got his doctorate and his daughter went to college in the United States. I took him to his first baseball game – the Frederick Keys. He loved the hot dog and having a coke. We have stayed in touch ever since.

I also spent time in Otts with retired Fire Chief Sam Mazza of the Monterey, California Fire Department. Our friendship began under the Executive Firefighter program. We shared stories about our family and teaching opportunities at the NFA, and compared how the West Coast and East Coast fire departments operate. Even though we are far apart, we see many of the same issues in our respective departments.

Chief Mazza and I became instructors for Community Risk Reduction Executive Analysis at the NFA, under the direction of Mary Marchone and Michael Weller. We discussed the possibility of my family coming to visit Chef Mazza and his family in California, which my family did, and we had a great time. Sam and I are now like blood brothers.

I spent some time chatting with Chief Martin King, former Fire Chief of the West Allis Fire Department in Wisconsin, about Community Risk Reduction (CRR). He shared with me the importance of CRR in the departments as a promising asset in saving those in the community we serve, as well as protecting firefighters. He was so proud of his family, his department and being an NFA instructor.

Thomas graduated from the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program in 2009 and later became an instructor for Community Risk Reduction Executive Analysis at the NFA.

Thomas graduated from the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program in 2009 and later became an instructor for Community Risk Reduction Executive Analysis at the NFA. (Photo/George Thomas)

King recently met with me and Chef Mike Sinsigalli from New York to catch up on our lives during COVID and check on each other’s family. The three of us had a great time and we resumed as if we had spoken last week, even though it had been about 13 years since I had spoken to Chief Sinsigalli. Chief King informed us of the passing of his lovely wife. We are always there for each other.

I remember talking with Captain Ethan Holmes of the Wyomissing, Pennsylvania Fire Department about our good times taking classes together, as well as getting our fire officer designation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). We discussed becoming peer reviewers for fire officer candidates, which we both became. Holmes and I talk at least once a week and share our fond memories of the Ott household. Lots of good talk and laughter, and sharing the same beliefs to build a better and safer fire department.

I remember talking to Otts with now-retired Deputy Chief Kwame Cooper of the Los Angeles Fire Department. He was a trendsetter in the fire service. He earned his Ph.D. and is a consultant, and is a former NFA board member. Kwame was calling me and asking if I could pick him up at Dulles Airport in my Ford Mustang GT. I indeed would, and we often talked about the young man and his family that Kwame and his team helped through school. Kwame also shared the story of a patient needing help at an apartment complex where two gangs were present. Kwame spoke to their leaders, and they cleared the way for the firefighters to get to the patient.

I had great discussions at Otts with Chief Trey Mayo of the Winston-Salem (NC) Fire Department. He and I serve on the committee of the NFA Executive Fire Officer Symposium. We talked about what’s going on in his department, his great way of redesigning the box for his department, and his big family. We share the belief that our family comes first. Chef Mayo and I feel blessed by our family and enjoy following each other whenever we come to Emmitsburg.

I spent time in Otts with retired Fire Chief Sam Mazza of the Monterey, California Fire Department.  We shared stories about our family and teaching opportunities at the NFA, and compared how the West Coast and East Coast fire departments operate.

I spent time in Otts with retired Fire Chief Sam Mazza of the Monterey, California Fire Department. We shared stories about our family and teaching opportunities at the NFA, and compared how the West Coast and East Coast fire departments operate. (Photo/George Thomas)

There are so many memories with my senior fire officer class, 2006-2009. I’ve met great leaders: Peter O’Leary, Luke Fond, Wisconsin; Kenneth Ledford, Berwyn Heights, Ohio; Ronnie Snowberger, Ocala, Florida; James Syring, Clackamas, Oregon.

We were talking about all our families, firefighters and sports. It was great for me to be a sponge, soaking up everything they had to offer, because I was a lieutenant at that time. They all treated me like I was a chef. I learned so much from them, how to be a servant leader, how to deal with firefighter issues, as well as an overall understanding that even though fire departments may be hundreds of miles apart, they still have a lot in common. . These chefs are lifelong friends with whom I remain in contact. Otts gave us time to unwind, eat great Maryland food, and unwind after long hours of studying and projects.

I have shared many times with many new NFA participants who find themselves in Otts that the friends you make there will be friends you can count on.

My wife, Patrice, went on a business trip to Florida. There, she fell ill and had to go to the hospital. I was at home in Frederick County, Maryland, and wanted to help my wife. So I called my good friend Chef Ronnie Snowberger at 9pm and asked if the hospital she was in was near him? It was about 45 miles. He said he and his wife were immediately going to the hospital to be with my wife. I told him they could wait until the next day but they went that night, spent the night where the hospital was and finally took my wife back to her hotel and stayed with her to make sure that she was fine. Ronnie called me several times to update me.

I had so many great chats with instructors and students over dinner at Otts. Ott House gave us a place to hang out and chat with our students in a relaxed atmosphere. We learned so much from the students. A common thread was their family, their dedication to the fire service and their desire to stay up to date on the safest way to operate in an emergency, as well as their willingness to learn.

Hometown participant and tour guide

Several times in Otts I have shared information about places to visit in Frederick County. I was asked a lot because I was the “hometown contestant”. It was rewarding being a tour guide and suggesting great places to visit.

One of the favorite questions was if I could take them to Camp David. Sorry I can not.

Many wanted to know how a volunteer and career system worked together. I shared that the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Department and the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association were a model suit system. Everyone had the same goal in mind, to save lives and property. Many of the participants I met were from fully paid departments.

Thank you, Bobby Ott

Otts is undoubtedly the place that takes the pulse of our nation’s fire service. So much information is shared every day that Otts is open.

Bobby Ott, thank you to you and your family for making the firefighters feel so welcome, feeding us so well, and providing great drinks for all!!

Lillian L. Pena