Retiring Division Chief Tom Bogan was a strapping college defensive lineman with All-American good looks when he came to Marco Island as an 18-year-old in 1977. Forty-two years later he is retiring as a division chief for the Marco Island Fire Department.
Bogan, a fourth generation fisherman from Brielle, New Jersey, was a good enough football player that he could have played for the University of Miami, but instead decided to stay closer to home at Montclair State.
“I got accepted at the University of Miami,” Bogan said. “I probably should have gone there. That’s when (hall of fame quarterback) Jim Kelly was there.”
But when Bogan’s parents decided to move to Marco Island after his freshman year of college, he decided to join them and forgo a college football career. Marco Island has certainly benefitted from his decision.
Bogan started a lawn care business when he arrived on the island and found it to be lucrative.
“I was just an 18-year-old kid picking up a couple of yards,” Bogan said. “Before I knew it I was making more money than the guys back home who were working as accountants and on Wall Street.”
True to his roots, Bogan soon became a charter fishing captain on the island.
“I bought a boat and started chartering on weekends. Then I was working at O’Shea’s restaurant at nighttime. That’s where I met my wife, Kathy. She was a waitress. We dated on and off for a couple of years and got married.”
Bogan’s reputation in landscaping grew and he was asked to take over the account at The Charter Club of Marco Beach, a six-acre property on Marco Beach.
“That was my big break,” Bogan said. “I worked there for 20 years.”
Bogan became a firefighter while he took care of the resort and his other, smaller accounts. Eventually, he decided to downsize his landscaping business to concentrate on his career with the fire department.
“It’s been a good career. We’re like the unsung heroes,” Bogan said. “We’ve got good leadership within. We police ourselves. Our hiring process is tough. We pick the cream of the crop and it shows.”
Bogan has moved through the ranks. Through the most physical jobs, to his current position, which is more logistical.
“I started as a volunteer in the late 1980s. Then in October of 1991 I got hired by John Burback, who has passed away now. I was a firefighter for 10 years, then I was promoted to driver/engineer and worked that position for a long time, then got promoted to captain. I was a captain until five years ago when I was promoted to battalion chief, which is what they call a division chief.
“As a firefighter you’re pulling hoses,” he said. “As a driver you’re in charge of the truck, pumping, making sure everything is working.
“Captain is probably the toughest job, because you have to be able to direct your truck, you have to be in really good physical condition because you have to be able to run up to the 20th floor to fight a fire. The captain goes to the fire floor in a condo. He actually goes into the fire, or a hazmat situation, or you’re in charge of a marine call where there’s lightning and it’s blowing. The captain is the toughest job.
“Once you’re a battalion chief you’re not putting your bunker gear on anymore. You’re doing more logistics.
“We have a deputy chief, Dave Batiato, who’s a great boss. And our fire chief, Mike Murphy, who’s a great boss. They give us the leeway to run it. Just run it the way you see fit. That’s good. It’s exciting. Every day when you come to work, from bridge to bridge, you’re in charge of what’s going on. The safety of everybody. It’s a 24-7 job. Beach access, water access, boat access, high rise, parking, getting tower trucks in. Your mind is just constantly going. You have to be on your game. But it’s fun. It keeps you sharp.
“I run the shift. There are three division chiefs. The three of us work great together, and that’s important. We basically run the department as far as calls, reports, scheduling. Making sure things happen. As you go up in management you’re more here (at the station) than there (on the street). But we’re still part of the team. I don’t run as many calls. I will still go on, like yesterday morning, we had a shooting in Old Marco. I’ll go if there’s a suicide, death, drugs, disturbances, fires, hazmat. I and the other chiefs, too, like to let the guys go—these guys are smart. Once you reach that driver/engineer level you’re testing, you’re intelligent, you’ve got education. So we try to guide them to take over when we leave.”
Bogan has forgotten more harrowing stories from his days at the fire department than he can remember. But there are a few that bubble to the surface.
“Five or six years ago a family was offshore about 12 miles,” he recalled. “Their boat sunk, they were out fishing. It was one of our first marine calls. We found them as their boat was sinking. It was getting dark. I can remember there was a 12-year-old kid. They were hanging onto the bow as it was going down. If we were 10 minutes later we wouldn’t have found them. The boat would have sunk and we wouldn’t have been able to find them. That 12-year-old boy giving me his hand, pulling him out of the water. I was like, ‘Whew, that was close.’ I never got the people’s name. But it didn’t matter.
“Things like that make a big impact. There’s tons of stuff. You forget ‘em all. But it doesn’t matter. That’s what we’re paid to do and that’s what we do. We were just talking at breakfast this morning, the chief was in there, and I said, ‘Gosh, I’ve forgotten about so many calls.
“There was a guy who shot himself in the leg by accident, pulling his gun from under the front seat of his car. I took my thumb and put it in his femoral artery to stop the bleeding until we could get a tourniquet on it. Just a thing like that probably saved his life. He was bleeding out. The list goes on and on. There’s so many of them.
“But the highlight of the whole thing really isn’t about this place, it’s about my family. Just raising my kids, them being able to get their education, and marry two wonderful spouses. Our grandkids. My parents and my family living and having a healthy life. I’ve always told my kids, ‘that’s the important stuff.’ Jobs and careers are great. I would rather have my kids have fantastic spouses and live in a trailer park than have an abusive spouse and live in a mansion. My greatest accomplishment for Kath and I are our kids, our grandkids and our parents and our brothers and sisters. We’ve been blessed to have over the top family. So when I have bad days here and I go home and I can see my wife and kids, all the tragedies and stuff, that’s what helps me cope. That’s what drives me to keep pushing. I think people get too wrapped up in work. You’ve got to think about that. We see it all the time. People living in these big mansions and there’s domestic violence and abuse going on. There’s shootings. It’s like, they’ve got all this money and their families are all screwed up. Stop making the money. We all go in the same pine box. My biggest accomplishment, Kathy and I, and mostly Kathy, is the kids and our family. And my family here. That’s probably who I’ll miss the most. These guys. We spend the holidays together.”
Bogan has remained true-blue to the fire department, literally, until his last day.
“The chief was saying, ‘You’re done, go, it’s your last day.’ I said, ‘No, I said I was working through today.’ I know he’ll tell me to go home early. ‘Go home tonight.’ I’ll tell him ‘I get off tomorrow morning at 7:45, I shook your hand and told you, and that’s what I’m going to do.’”
Bogan’s boss, Division Chief Dave Batiato, will miss Bogan.
“We’ve been together his whole career,” Batiato said. “He was a volunteer. He actually was supposed to take the position I took. He didn’t take it and he had to wait another year and a half to get hired. He was a driver for me when I was a captain, and he was a captain for me when I was a shift commander and now he’s a shift commander and we work very well together. He is my personal reference. He checks what I say. He keeps me on the calm because he’s always very relaxed. He is a Marco guy. He’s been here forever. He knows everybody. He’s always positive about the city and the island and the people here and the department. He’s always been that type of person. There’s never negative. He’s always working hard to improve everything that’s going on in our building. He was directly involved in our getting a bigger boat. He’s been involved in our marine programs, and has worked throughout the whole county. Just making it better. That’s the type of person he is. It’s good having someone like that around. The type of family guy he is. He was always promoting people to be around their kids and watch them grow up. And not miss that opportunity. He’s going to be missed. Especially for me, selfishly, he’s one of the people who help me. I reach out to him a lot.
“He’s always been an old soul. Steady. He’s obviously gotten old. We all have. He’s the same. He’s the same type of guy. The same type of leader. It’s pretty neat. He’s always been even-keeled the way he is now. For the fire department, he is a vital asset because of the calm manner that he brings. The guys that work for him, that’s one of the things they see. He’s calm, and he’s honest and he’s good for that group. There’s a lot of young guys that work with him and he’s trying to teach them about life. More than just the fire department. How to be a man. And a family man. And a husband. Just life. He’s a good teacher.”
Bogan said he’s ready for retirement. He looks forward to spending time with his wife Kathy, their children and grandchildren. They have a second home in Georgia, where they plan to spend their time when not on Marco.
“When I leave tomorrow morning, you won’t notice any difference,” Bogan said. “In fact it will probably be better. The next group will be better than my group, and I was better than the last group. We want smart, strong people. Men or women. Smart and strong. That just makes us better.”