Behind The Mask: Captain Rich Tibbetts
Written by Deborah Kowal
Captain Rich Tibbetts has been working at Westover Air Reserve Base as a DOD (department of defense) civilian firefighter for the past six years. Rated as a GS8 and promoted to Captain this past September, Rich is thirty-eight years old, and currently in his thirteenth year within the fire service.
Originally from Barnstable Massachusetts, he now lives near Worcester with his wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 10, and a three-year-old son. His family recently expanded with a new addition of a four-month-old boxer puppy. He commutes twice a week to the Westover base, working 48 hours on and 72 hours off, spending his time equally between home and the work.
Rich wanted to do something where he could help people, stay active, and avoid working behind a desk. He entered the United States Air Force at age 25 as a firefighter, with six-month deployments to Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq in 2005.
Before coming to Westover, he was stationed at Elmendorf AFB, in Anchorage Alaska for three and a half years, Otis AFB for eight months, and at Schriever AFB near Colorado Springs for two years. He was also deployed to Galina Alaska, near an Inuit village by the Yukon River for a month. Galina was supposed to be a one week posting, but was extended a month due to wildfires.
Not surprisingly, Captain Tibbetts does not care for the cold weather, having lived in it most of his life. His spends his free time with his family and keeping his children occupied. He is a sports fan of the Patriots and the Red Sox, and likes to fish, but doesn’t find much free time to do so.
Tibbetts says the best part of his job is the adrenaline when he gets the call, planning on the way to the incident and wondering what it may look like when he arrives on the scene. He likes the excitement of not knowing what is going to happen every day at work. Rich explained it could be anything from a plane crash to someone needing medical assistance; it's never the same.
Rich: It was in Alaska, at a car fire during the night. They use block heaters in Alaska to help keep car engines warm as it gets so cold. There are usually a couple of them a year, it started the whole vehicle on fire. I was the plugman on that one, hooked up the hose to the hydrant then got behind one of the hand linemen.
"A mass casualty incident came in... a tank rolled up and opened their door. There was blood everywhere."
360° ▸ The call you will always remember that had the most impact
Rich: When I was on deployment in Iraq, we were off-duty and other medics were short-handed. We lived close to the medic tent so we were on standby if they needed anything. A mass casualty incident came in... a tank rolled up and opened their door. There was blood everywhere. I remember I pulled out this lieutenant on a stretcher and his leg was beside him. I have never seen someone’s face so white before. He made it, but a couple of guys passed away, and I will definitely never forget that one.
360° ▸ Oddest or weirdest call?
Rich: The most awkward call was while I was in Colorado. There was a man, who while sitting on his toilet, had his hip “locked up”. I had to physically get behind him to lift him up while he was sitting there naked.
360° ▸ Funniest thing that happened to you on the job?
Rich: While I was stationed in Alaska, it was obviously always icy there, so the guys would go to get out of truck and slide and fall on their backs, but when you were on your last shift there you would get something called an Alaska Jacuzzi. The guys planned it for weeks, but they would make out of snow a pool, and fill it with water. Then they would tackle you, strap you on a backboard and put you in it. They would throw the nastiest junk in it, like whatever old food they could find, fish and stuff. That was crazy, but if they liked you they did that to you. That was the coldest I’ve ever been I think. Here on base we do joke around and do as much “pranking” as we can but without going over the line. We have to keep it light and not stressful.
First thoughts... for the last few questions tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.
One thing you are really good at?
I’m a good cook.
One thing you aren’t good at?
Probably just sitting around and not doing anything, being idle.
Favorite food while on duty?
Anything we do together, having any kind of family meal.
Your first thought when the alarm goes off?
One piece of equipment you rely on?
Nickname at work?
Tibby, at home it's Daddy.
Who has your back most at the firehouse?
All the guys do.
Something that you really love to do?
I like spending time with and teaching my kids.
If you could live anywhere in the world?
Somewhere warm, near the beach.
Can you dance?
Not really. I could dance, but am I good? I don’t know.
Deborah Kowal is a life-long resident of Western Mass, currently adjunct faculty teaching psychology at American International College in Springfield, and as a Security Specialist at Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton. Annual participant of local Relay for Life event as a member of Team Northampton Firefighters, writer and photography enthusiast, local runner and avid reader.
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