Salute the Badge: The life of a fire investigator

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- If you think your job is hard, trying being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That’s the life of a fire investigators with the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s office.

“I still get up in the morning and I love doing what I do,” said Wally Roberts, who has been working as a public servant since the early 80s.

His first taste was as a volunteer firefighter in California. He then joined the army, where he served at Ft. Riley. From there, he joined the Topeka Police Department, where he caught the investigations bug, which lead him to fire investigations.

“The easiest way to explain what we do is we’re the fire police,” he explained.

Roberts puts his heart and soul into his job.

“When we go to work, it is somebody’s worst day. Quite literally. Somebody’s died. Their house has burnt down. Something very, very bad and tragic has happened and we really do get to help them through that process. That’s a very good feeling of helping them through that,” he said.

Through the years, he’s been able to do some extraordinary things. He once was a dog handler, specializing in explosive detection, which took him on assignments across the nation.

“As far west as Las Vegas, Nevada on details. Boston, Massachusetts on details. I worked the World Series in St. Louis. I was there for a week and a half,” he detailed.

While the jobs is rewarding, it has taken time from precious moments with his family.

“It is difficult sometimes. We’ve missed Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, but it’s helping the community. It’s helping our great state. It’s what we do, and all of us in the office enjoy what we do,” he said.

13 NEWS visited with Roberts while he was on vacation. But that time was cut short so he could assist the Topeka Fire Department with investigating a deadly house fire in the Oakland neighborhood. These fires, where someone has lost their life, are the most stressful.

“You just talk it out afterwards. Talk it out with the guys you’re on the scene with. You just kind of do what you need to do to get through it. Sometimes you take what you’re dealing with and put it in a box. Close the box and you continue on with what you’re doing. You open up that box and process it later,” he explained with a heavy heart.

While there have been tough times, Roberts is proud one of his children has decided to join him in service. His youngest son is attending Washburn University, studying criminal justice, so he can be just like his dad.

The Kansas State Fire Marshall’s office helps any agency in the state of Kansas investigate fires. They generally help smaller agencies that don’t have investigators, like in rural districts or volunteer departments. But Roberts says if anyone need his help, he’ll be there.