Robert “Butch” Cobb joined ISO in 2009 as director of Community Hazard Mitigation and ISO’s key spokesperson to the nation’s fire service.
In 2010, Butch’s promotion to national director gave him increased responsibilities for directing ISO’s public fire protection information-gathering and analysis process, including all field operations, the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), the Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®), and the Community Rating System Flood Program.
Butch in the fire service
Before joining ISO, Butch served with the Jersey City, N.J., Fire Department for 34 years. During his career with the department, Butch served as a firefighter and captain in some of the busiest units: Engine 20, Engine 22, Ladder 5, and Rescue 1. After his promotion to battalion chief, the department assigned Cobb command of the 2nd Battalion. Upon his promotion to deputy chief, the department appointed him chief of operations, overseeing daily field operations. Butch also held the positions of chief of training, citywide tour commander, and deputy coordinator of OEM and homeland security.
A nationally recognized fire service expert and frequently requested speaker at industry conferences, Cobb also served as a contributing editor for a leading fire service periodical, Firehouse Magazine, and has authored more than 50 fire service–related articles. In addition to his career fire department experience, he was a volunteer firefighter and past fire chief of the West Milford Township, N.J., Fire Department and a past chief of the Dumont, N.J., Fire Department.
Butch looks back
“I’ve always enjoyed speaking to fire chiefs, community officials, and fire service organizations about the value of ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC™) program. It’s been especially rewarding to see the increase in the number of registered fire chiefs using our Fire Chiefs Online website during my tenure. I always enjoy telling fire chiefs the story about how I recognized the value of ISO after the 2004 grading of the Jersey City Fire Department. I was a little leery about ISO coming in to evaluate my department. I spent a solid week working with two ISO field representatives — Bob Glunt and Larry Maynard — and ISO Regional Manager Bob Nevins. When all was said and done, I had an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the data collection process and the remarkable value of the PPC summary report. Our department used the information in the decision-making process on resource purchasing and deployment. Because of the data presented in the PPC report, our department restarted several key programs, including pump testing and hose testing. With the help of Bob and Larry, I was able to develop a five-year plan to improve the city’s Class 3 PPC to a Class 2 rating.
Little did I know a second career with ISO would come about in 2009.
The past three years assisting with the FSRS revisions have been a very busy and productive part of my ISO career. Nearly every state chiefs association, state fire marshal, and major conference has asked for an ISO representative to speak at their events. My primary job along with ISO Field Manager Skip Gibson was to attend as many conferences as possible to update all fire service organizations on the upcoming revised schedule. One trip took me from Phoenix, Arizona, to Savannah, Georgia, to Denver, Colorado, to Red Lodge, Montana, in the span of five days. It was a very successful trip, and all the states we visited have approved the new FSRS.
One of the highlights of my ISO career was receiving the Western Fire Chiefs Association Presidents Award during their annual meeting at the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Fire-Rescue International (FRI) conference in Denver. It was an honor to receive the award from Chief Jim Critchley.
Another highlight of my career was the opportunity to help create Community Fire Protection News. More than 12,000 fire chiefs and 3,000 insurers around the country read our newsletter. Our readership sees the work that ISO and Verisk are doing in community hazard mitigation, and we get an opportunity to receive feedback on numerous topics and issues.”
Every day as a firefighter was a great day, except one — 9/11/01 On September 11, 2001, the Jersey City Fire Department responded to a request for mutual aid at Box 001 (Manhattan). It was an attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) towers. The department dispatched Battalion Chief (BC) Cobb to the WTC incident; he arrived shortly after the initial fire department units.
As BC Cobb made his way toward the collapse area, he assisted numerous injured FDNY firefighters, officers, and civilians, bringing them back to West Street and Chambers Street, where EMS personnel were setting up a triage area. BC Cobb also received a report that Jersey City fire dispatcher Joseph Lovero, who responded with the 3rd Battalion chief, was missing. Cobb attempted to locate him. The report stated that others had last seen Dispatcher Lovero in the area of WTC #6 (Customs Building), which had partially collapsed from falling debris from the North Tower. Despite heavy fire conditions and the risk of additional collapses, BC Cobb searched as long as he could but had to discontinue the search because of increasingly adverse conditions. He also attempted to search the area in front of the North Tower lobby and the north pedestrian walkway, which had totally collapsed. Despite heavy smoke, dust, and the constant danger of collapse, BC Cobb persevered. He eventually joined members of the FDNY and assisted in searching void spaces under the collapse.
After nearly 12 hours at the WTC site, BC Cobb returned to Jersey City fire headquarters. Upon his arrival, he was notified that responders found Lovero in the debris and transported him to Saint Vincent’s Hospital, where he succumbed to the injuries he received during the North Tower collapse. It was a sad day.
Butch performed his duties at extreme personal risk and was instrumental in rescuing and saving others from possible death. As such, the Jersey City Fire Department awarded Battalion Chief Robert Cobb its Class “A” Medal of Honor. He also received a Heroism Citation from then New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey.