My Ott House Pub memories

‘We are always there for each other’: Reflecting on the lifelong friendships formed at the NFA-adjacent pub


I have spent over 180 days over the past 24 years with fire service friends, sharing war stories and family updates, and gaining knowledge at 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 Division of Fire and Rescue and retired on April 1, 2018, at the rank of captain. I have taken over 60 classes at the NFA over the years.

While taking the classes, I would always tell everyone to make sure that they made it to the Ott House Pub at least once while at the NFA. Why? The Ott House Pub has become the local eatery for anyone connected to the NFA, instructors and students alike. Bobby Ott, the owner, and the entire staff make everyone feel at home there. Ott House Pub is a place where you can find patches of fire departments from around the world. There is a fellowship that you feel as soon as you walk in the door – one of firefighters and locals who are eager to talk to you!

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

Lifelong friendships formed

I have talked to the deputy chief of the Hong Kong Fire Department, Shane Lo, now retired. He enjoyed the atmosphere and eating American food. He shared with me how proud he was of the fire boat he had just procured for the Hong Kong Fire Department, and told me about his family and how proud he was of them. He obtained 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 hotdog and having a coke. We have kept in touch ever since.

I also spent time at Otts with retired Fire Chief Sam Mazza of the Monterey (California) Fire Department. Our friendship started in the Executive Fire Officer Program. We shared stories about our family and possible teaching opportunities at the NFA, and compared how West Coast and the East Coast fire departments operated. Even though we are a coast apart, we see many of the same issues in our respective departments.

Chief Mazza and I went on to become instructors for the Executive Analysis of Community Risk Reduction at the NFA, mentored by Mary Marchone and Michael Weller. We discussed having my family come visit Chief Mazza and his family in California, which my family did, and we had a blast. Sam and I are now like blood brothers.

I spent time talking to Chief Martin King, former fire chief for the West Allis Fire Department in Wisconsin, about community risk reduction (CRR). He shared with me the importance of CRR in departments as an up-and-coming asset to save those in the community we serve, as well as protection of firefighters. He was so very proud of his family, his department and being an instructor at the NFA.

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

King met up with me and Chief Mike Sinsigalli from New York recently to catch up on our lives during COVID and check on each other’s family. A good time was had by all three of us, and we picked up as if we had talked last week, even though it had been about 13 years sinch I had talked to Chief Sinsigalli. Chief King shared with us the passing of his lovely wife. We are always there for one another.

I remember speaking with Captain Ethan Holmes from the Wyomissing (Pennsylvania) Fire Department about our good times taking classes together, as well as obtaining our Fire Officer Designation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). We discussed becoming peer reviewers for the Fire Officer designation candidates, which we both have become. Holmes and I talk at least once a week and share our fond memories of the Ott House. Many great discussions and laughs, as well as sharing the same beliefs for building a better and safer fire service.

I remember talking in Otts with now-retired Assistant Chief Kwame Cooper of the Los Angeles Fire Department. He was a trend-setter in the fire service. He obtained his doctorate and does consulting, and is a past board of visitor member at the NFA. Kwame would call me and ask if I could pick him up at Dulles Airport in my Ford Mustang GT. I would indeed, and we would talk often about the young man and his family that Kwame and his shift helped get through school. Kwame also shared a story about a patient in need of 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 have had great discussions at Otts with Chief Trey Mayo of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Fire Department. He and I serve on the committee for the NFA Executive Fire Officer Symposium. We have discussed what it is like at his department, his great way of redesigning the box for his department, and his great family. We share a belief that our family comes first. Chief Mayo and I feel blessed by our family, and we enjoy keeping up with each other every time we get to Emmitsburg.

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

There are so many memories with my Executive Fire Officer class, 2006-2009. I met great chiefs: Peter O’Leary, Fond de Luc, Wisconsin; Kenneth Ledford, Berwyn Heights, Ohio; Ronnie Snowberger, Ocala, Florida; James Syring, Clackamas, Oregon.

We would talk about all of our families, fire departments and sports. It was great for me to be a sponge, taking in all that they had to offer, as I was a lieutenant at that time. They all treated me as if I was a chief. I learned so much from them, how to be a servant leader, how to handle fire department issues, plus a global understanding that while fire departments may be hundreds of miles apart, they still have a lot in common. These chiefs are lifelong friends with whom I still keep in touch. Otts afforded us time to relax, eat good Maryland food, and unwind after long hours of study and projects.

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

My wife, Patrice, went on a trip for work to Florida. While there she became sick and had to go to the hospital. I was home in Frederick County, Maryland, and wanted to help my wife. So I called my good friend Chief Ronnie Snowberger at 9 p.m. and asked if the hospital she was in was near him? It was about 45 miles away. He said he and his wife were going to go immediately to the hospital to be with my wife. I told him they could wait till the next day, but they went that night, stayed overnight where the hospital was, and eventually brought my wife back to her hotel and stayed with her to make sure she was OK. Ronnie called me several times to keep me updated.

I have had so many great discussions with instructors and students over dinner at Otts. Ott House gave us a place to unwind and talk with our students in a relaxed atmosphere. We learned so much from the students. A common thread was their family, dedication to the fire department, and desire to stay current on the safest way to operate at emergencies, plus their willingness learn.

Hometown attendee and tour guide

Many times at Otts, I have shared information about places to visit in Frederick County. I got asked a lot due to being the “hometown attendee.” It was rewarding to be a tour guide, and suggest great places to take in.

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

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

Thank you, Bobby Ott

Otts is definitely the place that has the pulse on our nation’s fire service. So much information is shared every day that Otts is open.

Bobby Ott, thanks to you and your family for making the fire service feel so welcomed, feeding us so well, and suppling great beverages for all!!


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