Growing up as a passionate baseball player, Rob Hole knew he was destined to be a teacher and coach.
Years later, in retrospect, the now-retired firefighter can see he actually lived out that calling. However, his teaching, coaching and mentoring wasn’t through the traditional educational system, but rather through an unexpected route – a 26-year career as a First Responder in the Greater Kansas City area.
During his 18-year tenure with the Lenexa Fire Department, Hole did much more than the operational aspects of being a firefighter and EMT specialist. He was tasked with developing and coordinating the fire department’s Peer Support Team, which trains First Responders in the Kansas City metro area and across the state of Kansas. He poured himself into leading a team that responds to the aftermath of critical incidents to help First Responders process these traumatic events to avoid cumulative stress effects.
“Everybody has stress in their life,” Hole said. “What the First Responder occupation throws on top of that is sleep deprivation, shift schedules which can impact your family and exposure to critical incidents. We see hundreds of traumatic situations.”
That trauma has caused an increasing attention in recent years to the mental health well-being of this high-stress career. And that is where Hole has made a difference…as a coach.
“There are many capable firefighters in the role of fire apparatus operator,” Hole said. “But not so many can provide the comfort and care that are so necessary within the profession. Starting and leading the peer support system has been the most rewarding aspect of my career.”
Hole’s passion and success in teaching valuable tools to help the emotional and mental health of First Responders were born out of his own story. It’s a story that ultimately ignited his path into becoming a firefighter.
Hole moved to Kansas City from Ohio in high school and played baseball for legendary coach Bill McDonald at Shawnee Mission South. He was on the 1985 Kansas Class 6A state championship team.
He continued playing baseball at Emporia State – earning berths in two NCAA Division II College World Series – while receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. He then became a graduate assistant for the University of Kansas baseball team while gaining a master’s degree in Education.
His first head coaching job came at Brown Mackie College in Kansas City. Soon after, Hole ran into his first battle with clinical depression. “Within months, I couldn’t take care of myself let alone a 30-person baseball team,” he recalls.
Hole described his past self as a perfectionist, with OCD tendencies, that led to an unbalanced life. “I could do that for a while and then I got weary, and for me, it seemed to open the door to depression.”
“It was the first obstacle I couldn’t overcome on my own. Suicidal ideation and a plan for completion led to a 16-day hospitalization that changed my life. That is where I realized I was not alone in my battle with depression. I was desperate to get better, so I attended a chapel service. The Chaplain introduced me to a life with Jesus, and I began the process of having honest conversations.”
“Many people who are depressed hide it or turn to substances,” Hole continued. “Recovery starts with having honest conversations rather than covering it up.”
Through his journey to mental health recovery, Hole’s career in education got diverted. A passion swelled within his soul to serve the community and to leverage his experience to help others battling mental health challenges.
After training for two years with the Merriam Fire Department to become a Firefighter/EMT, Hole began his full-time work as a First Responder in Independence, MO for two years. He then moved to the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department for four years before his long tenure in Lenexa.
“Ultimately, getting to help people who oftentimes are in their worst moments has been very rewarding,” Hole said. “And doing it with a team that becomes your family is special. It’s a unique job where you serve together, eat together and do life together.”
While the actual job has been satisfying to Hole, he emphatically points to his work in building a system to assist the mental health well-being of First Responders as his greatest impact. “There’s nothing better than being able to have a positive impact on my brothers and sisters in this profession.”
With the unwavering support of his wife of 32 years, Rochelle, Hole has worked through his own battles to make life better for those around him.
His longtime work with Kansas City area First Responders has earned Hole the honor of being named a Blue KC Hometown Hero. The recognition from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City and the Kansas City Royals includes being introduced on the field at Kauffman Stadium on Friday, July 22.
“I never imagined I would be in this job as a firefighter,” Hole reflects. “I was going to be an educator. God changed the plan. He wanted me to be a teacher and coach as a firefighter. And to provide guidance and protection for the bigger things in life.”
Although retired, Hole still volunteers…and just try to guess in what role. “A Chaplain changed my life, and now I’m serving as a Chaplain at the Lenexa Fire Department.”
Here’s a Hometown Hero salute to Rob Hole.