Dedication to family and fire service in Roxana chief’s blood

ROXANA — Chris Uibel doesn’t have far to travel when the pager goes off sounding an alarm at Roxana Volunteer Fire Company Station 90.

“Four tenths of a mile that way. I live in Roxana, where the speed limit changes from 50 (mph) to 35,” said Roxana’s 31-year-old fire chief.

Mr. Uibel and wife Amanda have two children: Logan, 9, and Layla, 3.

Roxana Volunteer Fire Company Chief Chris Uibel with son Logan, wife Amanda and daughter Layla at Station 90.

And yes, his daughter’s arrival was marked with that Eric Clapton/Derek and Dominos hit, “Layla.” “They played it when she was born,” said Mr. Uibel.

He is a product of the Indian River School District system: Phillip Showell Elementary, Selbyville Middle School and the old Indian River High School, Class of 2004.

Mr. Uibel, who is adopted, is not a native Sussex Countian. He was born in Houston, Texas. “I’ve been here for over 25 years. I moved here when I was four. Then mom and dad moved here when I was like 5 ½. I Iived with my grandparents.”

Mr. Uibel joined the fire company as a junior member in 2001. Besides chief, he has held positions of assistant chief and lieutenant. Mr. Uibel was honored as Roxana Firefighter of the Year 2013 and Carl M. Freeman Firefighter of the Year 2014.

Chief Chris Uibel goes over instructions with an Operation GEM cadet.

Roxana VFC last year launched a pioneering program – Operation GEM – in partnership with the Indian River School District. The program, born from discussions with Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett, is geared as an aggressive pro-active, recruitment retention program.

“It’s doing what we hoped it would do,” said Mr. Uibel.

This week’s People to Meet: Chris Uibel.

College?

“Del Tech at Stanton in Newark. It’s the only community college on the east coast that has fire protection. My major was fire protection/engineering.”

Where do you work? What do you do?

“I am a fire protection/electrical engineer. We do blueprints. Essentially, we do blueprints for commercial, industrial, hotels, motels with an international firm, RMF Engineering. We do commissioning for all boiler plants U.S.-owned on other territories – Puerto Rico, Germany, Turkey, anywhere and everywhere. Usually if there is a military base or an embassy that requires a boiler, we go do the commissioning. I’ve been as far west as Iowa and north as Chicago with work.”

Is fire service in your blood?

“Yes and no. My dad’s family is from Ephrata, Pa. My dad’s grandfather or great grandfather, he was a tobacco farmer and the first fire engine for Reamstown, which was what is Ephrata now was stored in his tobacco shed when tobacco wasn’t drying. I didn’t know him.”

“So, it’s not really in the blood or in the genes. It’s friends. A friend when I was 16, Rob Richardson, he told me, ‘Hey, it’s a cool place to hang out. We get to break things.’ We’re both adrenalin junkies, and it was one of those ‘it’s a cool place to hang out’ things. It gets you away from everybody. And you get to do what is right. It lets you sleep better at night.”

How about your fire service commitment?

“I guess it’s in my blood: if you’re going to do something, do it 110 percent. You can show up the one night a week. You can show up for the meeting night. You can show up just to run calls. But my theory in order to sleep better at night – that’s one of my favorite sayings – to sleep better at night you have got to do what is right. And to give a volunteer organization less than they give back to the community it won’t make the wheels turn.”

“I’m here at least four nights a week. And that doesn’t include when the pager goes off.”

What fundraising does Roxana Station 90 do?

“Besides donations and county money and state money, we do fund-raisers. We do a gun raffle, a 30-day gun raffle. We’ve been doing chicken dinners since the dawn of Roxana. We do four a year: June, July, August and September.

“The men, we set up the hall. We do all the fried chicken and the mashed potatoes. The ladies do green beans, cole slaw, applesauce, the bread; they do all of that. I think we were just shy of 1,000 dinners served this last dinner.”

“My 9-year-old, he worked the chicken dinner last Saturday. He made tips from clearing tables but he was here three hours before helping bread, sort and flour the chicken …”

What’s Roxana VFC’s outreach mission?

“Spring Fling – the thought is we are also going to do the Halloween event like we did last year. We’re trying to do an outreach partnering with Operation GEM. Part of Operation GEM is to come out of our shell, more or less, not be in the fire house behind closed doors. We want it to be less of a clubhouse, mancave the doors are always shut, to an open-to-the-public, come-out-and-see-us, become-one-of-us outreach program. We’re trying to do a major event such as the Spring Fling every quarter.”

“Our next one is Halloween. Last year we did an event here and it was very similar to the Spring Fling. We did the costume contest. We did prizes in the engine bay and games. We did a hay maze and I’m sure we’ll do that again, and petting zoo. We always bring the helicopter down.”

“We cut two cars last year. We flip cars over out back last year and did all of that to show them this is what we do. This is why fire trucks are expensive. This is why we like what we do.”

Soccer was your game?

“My group of soccer players started River Soccer Club before it was River Soccer Club. We were No Fear! That was the soccer team that started the River Soccer Club. That was the beginning. We played soccer from the time we were eight years old until we graduated high school together.”

Skydiving has family ties?

“I enjoy skydiving, since 2012, in Suffolk, Va., home of the Peanut Festival. The airport is probably no bigger than Georgetown. We skydive with wounded warriors. Not the group, but wounded warriors.

“I did it twice in one year and then it was once a year. After my brother suffered from PTSD and committed suicide it was a group that relates to people. Obviously military people are adrenalin junkies, so they throw wounded people out of perfectly good airplanes, most of the time.”

Chris and Amanda Uibel snuggle up with the Easter Bunny at Roxana Volunteer Fire Company’s Spring Fling event..

Leisure time?

“There is no such thing! Between work, the fire house and Logan – he does 4-H – and archery, hunting and anything and everything, and Layla and my wife loves to shop. So, leisure time? I get leisure time between October and February Saturday mornings from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. when we go goose hunting. Ironically, I call it leisure time but it is with all my friends from the firehouse. It is truly a brotherhood because whether we are here, whether we are on vacation, whether we are hunting, fishing, playing golf – we are all together somehow, someway.”

“I love to garden. It puts my mind at ease. I can go out there and pull weeds and water plants. My son, he’s 4-H. One of my best friends, Troy, he has a produce stand and Logan says, ‘Hey, I can grow things and I can sell things.’ So, we can go out there and sweat. We can pull weeds. And at the end of it he can sell them. For him at 9-years- old making a dollar, making two dollars is gold. He is just tickled to death. If he can buy sister an ice cream cone from McDonald’s, he’s happy.”

Any fun facts?

“I applied to the Naval Academy. In high school, I was first in the state and 25th in the nation for rifle shooting. I was the drill team commander the year that Indian River High School ROTC won states. I met my wife at a fire convention, and we still argue over which Saturday it was!”

“I am scared of gnomes. Read R.L. Stine’s Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes. When you are eight years old and you read that book. In the book, they eat a cat. I’ve been attacked by a cat. I got it away from another cat. They say don’t get in between a dog fight. Nobody says don’t be getting between a cat fight.”

“I have dermographism (writing on the skin). It’s Greek for skin writing. It’s skin graffiti. The skin actually raises up. It will raise and itch. It drives me insane. Two percent of world population gets it.  You’re not born with it. Nobody knows why you get it, or how you get it. It just happens. So, you could cheat on a test. But I didn’t find out until I was 27 and 28. I was already done with college.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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