Department of General Services


For DGS engineer, public service is about 'helping people be successful' 


Fred Kirby's life of public service began outside the Richmond Thalhimer's, where as a boy he would stand outside opening the door for others as his mother shopped inside.

For him, it was _ and still is _ all about serving people and making them happy.

"It's just the little things, unexpected kindnesses I guess, that people enjoy and you feel like you've accomplished something," Kirby said. "Now, it's more than opening the door, but you still get a feeling of accomplishment that you've helped people get what they need."

In November, Kirby celebrated his 20-year anniversary with the Department of General Services, where he works as a civil and structural engineer reviewer for the Division of Engineering and Buildings (DEB). He works with agencies to determine if the designs that their architects submit live up to the state's safety standards and building code, including whether it will withstand snow, wind and earthquake loads that are different in each area of the state.

He may no longer be opening doors for shoppers, but he views his work as a public service. His job is to work with agencies to make sure the buildings they are constructing are not only safe for the public, but also economical.

"You can send a carpenter out there to build a small building and he'll get it done right, but the engineer's job is to do it right and economically," he said. "The engineer of record is a steward for the agency, but we here at DEB are stewards for the state and trying to be judicious with the state dollars and not waste the taxpayers' dollars while providing safety to the people of the Commonwealth."

Kirby is fascinated by the challenging projects, from a football stadium constructed with oversized steel to better absorb heat from a fire, to a convocation center built into a hillside, and tunnels built for train lines.

Kirby's excitement in talking about engineering feats is matched by the pride he takes in administering the testing for the Virginia Construction Contracting Officer exam. The VCCO certification teaches agency contract professionals everything they need to know to comply with the Virginia Public Procurement Act and other construction procurement principles. Just over 300 construction contract managers across the state have received the certification.

"That's what I see as a public servant, is helping people be successful," Kirby said.

Kirby said his job is not to get in the way or to hold up a project, but to serve as another line of defense against unsafe or substandard buildings being constructed on public property.

"You can build something and it will be standing up when you leave, but you let the earth loads act on it for a couple years or you use it for some time and you start having cracks and it's not performing like you want. Who wants to go fix a building that's only two years old?" Kirby said. "Who wants a fire event, God forbid, and they're supposed to be protected and somebody dies because it wasn't done right? We do have good consultants that do great work in the state, a lot of smart people in the private practice, but I see us as the last line of defense."

Kirby's desire to serve the public goes beyond ensuring safe buildings. He serves as a blood drive coordinator, a role he has done for much of his two decades at DGS. He and his wife, Yen, also travel to her native Vietnam, where last summer they helped fit patients with prosthetics through a program with Mercer University. He hopes to get back there again, possibly to perform missionary work after he retires.

Still, Kirby has no plans to leave public service any time soon. His mentor, Jim Fry, still works for DGS at age 79.

"This office has a vast amount of experience, because you have 20 design professionals who have decades of design experience all across the state. We are able to bring a lot of experience to these state projects and help them get done well," he said.

"At the end of the day it just comes down to trying each day to help deliver safe buildings."