Featured Athlete: Robin Brown aka Captain Hook

The first One Hand / One Glove Featured Athlete is none other than my husband, Robin Brown.  The short story is that he’s amazing.  Robin is the first upper extremity amputee to be hired on as a paramedic and firefighter – pre-Americans with Disabilities Act.  And he wasn’t just hired in, he excelled.  So here’s the in-depth version of Robin’s story:

Born and Raised in Texas

Robin Brown was born in Austin, Texas and grew up outside of Amarillo in a small town called Panhandle.  He descends from several generations of farmers and to this day they still own and operate Brown Farms there in Panhandle.  Growing up, Robin spent a lot of time working on the farm.  Farm life instilled a strong work ethic in him; he’s no stranger to hard work and a job well done.

Robin lost his arm in an accident on the farm when he was about 3 ½ years old.  He says that the best thing his parents did for him was insist that he wear his prosthetic arm.  It never slowed him down.  “I never considered myself as having to adapt to anything.  My prosthetic was just an extension of me, like anyone else with a left hand. “

Robin has always been athletic, playing sports from elementary school through high school and beyond including basketball, baseball, track and football.  He lettered in basketball at Panhandle High School.

He graduated from Panhandle High School in 1980.  Following high school, he attended college at nearby West Texas State for two semesters but found that college “wasn’t my cup of tea”.  He didn’t want to go back to working full time on the farm so he took odd jobs like driving a concrete truck and working at the local Dairy Queen while looking for full-time employment.

Early Career as a Welder and Chance Encounter Leads to a Job in Emergency Services

Robin eventually applied for a basic job at Ingersoll Rand in Pampa, TX.  The Human Resources manager asked if he’d be interested in becoming certified welder.  The response was an unequivocal yes! They sent him to welding school and he started working full time for them as a welder.

Meanwhile, a buddy of his was on the volunteer fire department in his hometown of Panhandle.   He thought Robin might be interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter and invited him to their monthly meeting.  The Panhandle Fire Department is 100% volunteer and given the small size of the town, they don’t run many calls.

While at the meeting that night, an ambulance call came in.  The paramedic that was there asked if Robin wanted to join them on the call.  Not knowing any better, he said yes!

It ended up being a critical call, turning into a cardiac arrest.  Before the night was over, he’d been doing CPR and ended up driving the ambulance to the hospital.  That was it he says, “I was hooked.”  He signed up and joined the Panhandle Volunteer Fire Department.

A few months later, Ingersoll Rand, the company he was working for, got word that he had joined the Panhandle Fire Department.  They asked if he’d be interested in being on their rescue squad, so he said yes to that too.  Ingersoll Rand sent him to EMT school and he became a basic EMT on both their rescue squad as well as for the Panhandle Fire Department.

Several months later, Ingersoll Rand lost a large order to China for an oil field product and was forced to lay off numerous employees, including Robin.  Fortunately, Robin had not only the training, but the passion to go into emergency services.

Paramedic with Various Ambulance Companies before Coming to Las Vegas

Robin was hired on with a new ambulance company, Pampa Medical Services in Pampa, TX on July 2, 1982.  After six months, they sent him to attend paramedic school.

From there Robin worked for multiple ambulance companies, moving to Fort Worth, New Orleans and New Mexico along the way.  He held various positions including Quality Assurance Coordinator/Paramedic and Paramedic Supervisor when he ultimately settled in Las Vegas working for Mercy Ambulance.

A Career with Clark County Fire Department Begins

Robin Brown One Hand One GloveIn 1989, Robin tested for Clark County Fire Department (CCFD).  Out of the over 5,000 people that tested, he finished 34th on the list.  Robin was hired on by the CCFD as Firefighter/Paramedic on September 4, 1990 and placed in the top five of his rookie class of 30 students.

He’s worked at various CCFD stations in the Valley throughout his career.  He promoted to Captain on June 24, 2000 and thus earning the nickname “Captain Hook”.

Robin worked at Station 65 in Southern Highlands for the majority of his tenure as a Captain.  Nearing retirement, Robin transferred over to Station 13 at McCarran Airport two years ago.  He plans to retire from there in February 2020, just shy of 30 years with the CCFD.

In addition to his position as Firefighter/Paramedic and Captain, he also worked on the Tech Rescue team as well as the FEMA Response Team (Nevada Task Force One) where they were part of the recovery operation two weeks following the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.  The boots that he wore during that time at Ground Zero still carry the dust from the work zone.  They are a revered and somber remembrance of first responders and civilians who were lost during the attacks.

Robin was the first below the elbow amputee in the country to be hired on as a paramedic or fire fighter. It’s worth noting that this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect.

Personal Life and Interests

Robin has been blessed with athletic ability and it has served him well throughout his life.  According to Robin, he “was a fairly decent golfer, surprising a lot of people that I played against.”  He’s also played in softball and basketball leagues and played professional paintball.

Robin Brown Desert Racing One Hand One GloveRobin, never never willing to settle on just one activity, then got into desert motorcycle racing. He and his partner Loren Noorda, also a firefighter, won several Best in the Desert races together.

He’s also an Xbox online gamer.  He started out playing Halo, now he plays Call Of Duty with other firefighters across the country. “I surprise people there too when they learn that I’m basically playing with one hand,“ Robin says.

As time, and age, went on, Robin found that he needed to do more to stay active and healthy. He took up mountain biking some years back and like everything he does, he went all in.  He’s competed in endurance events such as the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race three times, Crusher in the Tushar, the Belgian Waffle ride, and the Rock Cobbler.

Robin and his wife Laura enjoy supporting various veteran’s cycling groups and look forward to doing more of that in the future.

The Thing about Robin Brown

Robin Brown has had a lifetime of people telling him that he can’t do this or he can’t do that.  Robin has spent a lifetime proving them wrong. Time and time again.

Robin Brown Leadville One Hand One GloveRobin never backs down from a challenge.  Whether it’s a 100-mile mountain bike race, climbing up over 100 flights of stairs four times, in full gear, to honor fallen firefighters or his own grueling work as a firefighter, Robin is always all in.

If you ask Robin, he’s just doing his job. He refuses to have exceptions made for him; everything he’s accomplished has been done by his own accord and ability. He takes pride in a job well done and doesn’t make excuses.  He expects nothing less of anyone else in his life.  The work ethic instilled in him on the farm has served him well in his career and in life.

Robin keeps “The Four Agreements” on his desk as a daily reminder of that ethic:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

The Next Chapter – Giving Back with One Hand / One Glove

Robin is an active athlete and goes through gloves pretty quickly.  Mostly cycling gloves but also snowboard and work gloves as well.  He says his wife “got tired of all of the brand new, unused left-handed gloves that I had laying around the house so she came up with the idea for a website where amputees could exchange or sell their unused gloves. “

Laura developed OneHandOneGlove.com with the goal of connecting one-handed upper-body amputees that have unneeded gloves stacking up around the house with other (opposite arm) amputees.  Simply put, they’re out to connect people and gloves.

Robin and Laura are in the process of creating a non-profit corporation for One Hand / One Glove and proceeds from the company will go towards funding cycling events for veterans and first responders.   The couple is very passionate about giving back and supporting those who serve.

Publicity and Press

Robin has garnered a bit of attention over the years.  He’s been interviewed and featured in a few different shows and publications, including:

  • General Normal Schwarzkopf’s American Heroes (94/95)
  • Las Vegas Sun front page – swift water rescue story (while working Rescue 18).
  • Las Vegas person of the week
  • ‘98/’99: He and his crew were interviewed for pulling baby out of apartment fire.
  • MAVTV American Real: https://youtu.be/J_zEsqhgX5A
  • GetOffTheCouchAndGo.com: https://youtu.be/LD_aLzXvxlc
  • 89052 Magazine – Meet the Neighbor (August/September 2015)
  • Safety and Health Magazine: Disabled Workers Conquer the Odds by David Murray (September 1993) Illustrator: Terry Widener – Robin was used as model for cover art.

Robin has unintentionally blazed a trail for others to find their potential and live without limits.  He is an inspiration to not only his crew, but to his family and friends.  He is kind-hearted and generous, but he’ll also push you to be the best possible version of yourself.

Robin Brown is just an ordinary guy, doing extraordinary things.   Stay out of his way, and let him do his job.

#NoExcuses

by Laura Nowak Brown
@WestCoastCyberChick