Media Relations director also volunteers as a firefighter

WKU Director of Media Relations Bob Skipper looks upon the Colonnades on Feb. 11. Skipper is the current chief of the Woodburn Volunteer Fire Department. He has been with the group for over 25 years. Photo by William Kolb/HERALD

Trey Crumbie

When most WKU students see Skipper, Bob’s name, it’s usually in an email informing them about whether or not they have classes, when nasty weather threatens Bowling Green.

However, the director of Media Relations does more than fluctuate between a source of anger and joy among students, as seen by his WKU Mean Tweets video. 

He is the chief of the Woodburn Volunteer Fire Department, located in Warren County. 

Skipper has been at the fire department for about 20 years and has been chief for roughly half that time. Skipper began volunteer firefighting because his dad was one in Jefferson County, outside of Louisville. 

Skipper said there’s usually something going on everyday, and tasks range from medical runs to training with other volunteer fire departments.

“It’s more than fighting fire or working car wrecks,” he said.

Skipper has made many memories in his time at the Woodburn Volunteer Fire Department. Before he became chief, Skipper recalled a time where he and the previous chief were called to a trailer fire during a very violent blizzard.

“There were times we couldn’t see the road,” he said. 

When Skipper arrived, the trailer was completely destroyed. An infant had died inside the trailer. A man and woman suffered severe burns and both ended up dying later in the hospital. However, the couple’s female child survived. A year later, family members of the surviving child sent thank you cards and updated the department on the girl’s progress.

“That had a big impact on me — just to see that someone took the time to let us know, ‘hey, you all made a difference,’” he said.

David Oliver, director of Environmental Health and Safety, works with Skipper as a captain at the volunteer fire department.  The two work with about 25 people. Oliver said the group is diverse and that everyone contributes in some way.

“There’s something for everybody to do,” he said. “There’s a position for people to play.”

Tanner Knutson, 17, a junior at South Warren High School, is a junior firefighter at the WVFD who joined last year. Knutson said he feels the age gap between him and the rest of the volunteers is “weird,” but takes the opportunity as a learning experience.

“It’s a really tight community out here,” he said. 

Skipper said he expects volunteers to help out when they are called, but emphasizes other priorities take precedence. 

“The job comes first and that’s what we preach to our volunteers,” he said. “Your family comes first. If you’re needed at home, if you can’t leave work without causing a problem, you got to take care of those things first.”

Oliver and Skipper said the job requires balancing risk and reward when assisting the people they serve, and the fire department will not take unnecessary risks that could jeopardize lives. 

“Ultimately, our first priority is making sure we all go home,” Skipper said. “And I’ve been on one run where I’ve had two firefighters seriously injured … That, without a doubt, was the longest night of my life.”

The two firefighters survived, but left the service.

Oliver said the job can be stressful at times and tragedies may occur, but he praised those who are able to keep a smile on their face during bad times.

“Those are the true heroes in my book,” Oliver said. 

Oliver and Skipper said they are not necessarily popular in the community, but have a good reputation within the community of Woodburn. 

“… A lot of that is how we present ourselves,” Skipper said. “If we act professional on the scene, then people are going to think of us in those terms.”