They are not just part of a brotherhood. A pair of Cheyenne firefighters are actually brothers serving with the same fire department.
Growing up, Rory and Rowdy Fichtner were that magic four years apart. As one graduated from high school the other entered, and the same thing happened with college.
The two still managed to do a few things together during summers like hunting and fishing, but after college that divergence began to widen for the brothers who liked doing things together.
Both joined the National Guard as soon as they completed their educations, but their footsteps were separated by years and different assignments.
“Growing up, our dad was in the Army and both of our grandpas, so I think we both kind of knew what we thought we wanted to do,” Rory told Cowboy State Daily. “And so right out of high school, I did seven years in the Guard.”
But while Rory enjoyed his time with the Guard, he didn’t enjoy being away from family for so long.
“That’s when I started doing oil field stuff,” he said. “And after a while, I kind of felt like that wasn’t for me either. I still wanted the whole, I don’t know, doing something important with the team that I get along with and know really well.”
What that important something could be, though, remained a mystery until a visit to see family in New York City.
“We went to the 9/11 Memorial while we were there, and I was like yeah, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of where the two towers were. They have a big building there that’s kind of built over the top of one of the foundations and stuff and it just kind of tells the stories of everything that happened that day.”
Making A Change
Meanwhile Rowdy, who is the older brother, had also begun to feel it was time to make a change.
“When you’re not on active duty, you’ve got your civilian life, and I always kind of struggled a little bit to figure out what I wanted to do,” he said. “I had quite a few different jobs in a lot of different industries, but none of them really felt satisfying or fulfilling.”
During family dinners when the two brothers were together again, Rowdy would hear about Rory’s job, and that began to pique his interest.
“He always had these great stories — and he’s a good storyteller, too — about something funny or something really cool that they got to do, or just a funny station story about something, and so it just sounded awesome,” Rowdy said.
There was, for example, the time a call came in that identified a “man stuck in couch … or a cat?”
Or the time a curious little puppy managed to get his head stuck in some pipework.
All calls are taken seriously of course, Rory added, but sometimes they can be humorous once the crisis is over and all has ended well.
Eventually, the stories began to click with Rowdy, and he realized that he, too, would love being a firefighter, making a difference every day with a team of like-minded people.
“(Rory) is a huge part of why I’m here for sure. It just sounded so awesome, and it kind of slowly got into my head,” Rowdy said.
Despite being just about ready to deploy again with the National Guard, Rowdy decided to sign up for firefighter testing at his brother’s urging.
There were, however, a lot of logistical problems to overcome.
“My girlfriend at the time even took it upon herself to call Denver Fire, and they set up a special test just for me because I was leaving,” Rowdy recalled. “So, it was kind of for me like another sign that this is important.”
There was an additional test in Fort Hood, followed by interviews over Zoom while he was overseas. Finally, his deployment ended and he could accept a new, full-time position.
“It just all kind of lined up perfectly, and it was just you know, it was clear to me that this was where I needed to go,” Rowdy said.
Separate Shifts By Design
Usually, the brothers don’t get to work directly together, even though they’re both on the same fire department.
That’s by design, said Battalion Chief Don Wood.
“It’s scheduled that way so that, God forbid if there was something catastrophic, we wouldn’t essentially wipe out half a family,” Wood said. “We’ve been very fortunate not to have a line of duty death while on duty — there are deaths that qualify as line-of-duty deaths like cancer and things like that — but we haven’t had one that was actually while actively working on the fire department since the ’60s or the ’70s.”
Rowdy is assigned to Cheyenne’s Engine 1, which trades places with Engine 3 for most calls. Rory, meanwhile, serves with Engine 5.
Don’t suggest, however, that one brother is any busier than the other.
“Last time I checked, I was 11th in number of calls,” Rory said, after Rowdy agreed that Engine 1 is busier than Engine 5.
Their competitive streak is all in fun, Wood said, and just goes with the Type A personalities that the Cheyenne Fire Department’s hiring process tends to attract.
“That doesn’t ever really go away,” Wood said. “Even silly things like we’re gonna have a workout and with it we’ll play spike ball or something and it becomes a very cutthroat competition. It’s a very competitive group, but it’s fun and it keeps everybody at the top of their game.”
Rowdy and Rory both said their fellow firefighters have become part of their extended family. If someone on duty has an important family activity during a shift, such as a child playing in a hockey tournament, the whole shift will go to help cheer the youngster on.
“It’s just that kind of job where you develop a bond with the people you’re around all the time,” Rory said. “And I don’t know, after four and a half years, I still get excited to show up every day and hang out, train and do hard stuff with people I’m close to and make a difference in people’s lives.”
Same Truck For A Day
While the two typically serve on different firetrucks, there was one day when Wood decided to relax the rules a little bit and put the two on the same truck for a day.
“We can do shift trades, if someone needs a specific day off,” Rory explained. “So, I worked a different shift for a day, and we just ended up on the same truck.”
But that didn’t happen randomly, as Rory had thought. Wood decided to make an occasion of it since both brothers were now past probation.
“That was a good day,” Rory said. “We did some training and then it was kind of a weird day. Engine 1 is one of the busier engines in the city, and I think that was the slowest day I can ever remember.”
The two brothers had just one call — a small campfire in Romero Park, which was easily doused with a water can extinguisher.
“So, it was exciting, but not difficult,” Rowdy said.
The lack of calls was perfect for the occasion, though, and was a great experience for the brothers.
“We usually talk about stuff, but we’ve never worked together or run the truck together,” Rowdy said. “So, it was really fun to go out and do that.”