Thank you Chief Westhoff for asking me to share my reflection of my years serving with the West Plains Fire Department.
It’s interesting that I am at this point of my life, reflecting, but mother time allows this. I was born and raised in West Plains in a family of seven. My Dad, Joe, was community minded. He served the U.S. Army, served on the Fairview R-11 school board for many years, a Deacon at our local church, Ordained Minister, and volunteered as a firefighter for over 35 years with the West Plains Fire Department. Dad presently serves as president with Howell County Rural Fire Department. My Dad lead by example and passed that on to each of my other siblings, we all serve in one capacity or another.
I reflect back on my career with West Plains which begin in June, 1984, as a police officer and I joined the West Plains Fire Department at the same time. It was awesome because I got to serve alongside my Dad for a period of time. I grew up attending fire drills, and responding to fire calls occasionally, and picking up the fire phone that rang into the house for many years and listen to the dispatcher give out the emergency. My how things have changed!
I was blessed to watch and work with a many great men and women at West Plains over my 35 years of public safety life. To name a few I began my career at the fire department with Fire Chief Hubert Redburn, Assistant Chief Leon Taylor, Gordon Andrews, Everett Auffert, Ace Baker, Bill Ellison, Bill Freeman, Dale Smith, Hubert Risner, Fire Chief Joe Auffert, Janet Redburn, Lewis Callahan, Guy Ben Hollingshed, Dean Ledbetter, Dan Strange, Joyce Ledbetter Williams just to name a few.
I appreciate having the opportunity to serve alongside so many outstanding public servants. I tried to be the best boots on the ground during my years there. Being the young guy when I started, they called me “Gopher.” Go for this and go for that, I kept that title for about five years. I must have been good at it.
I was appointed assistant fire chief in 1996 and worked under Chief Redburn for 5 years. This allowed me to grow and mature immensely. We were able to accomplish a lot during those years, which included purchasing a new fire truck, opening station #2 and hiring four full time firefighters. We even held the FFAM convention, one of the largest in attendance, with a midnight fireworks display, and a special appearance from the Soggy Bottom Boys.
Chief Redburn retired in 2001, I was blessed to be appointed the new fire chief later that year. Thanks to Chief Redburn’s mentorship, the support of my wife at the time Carla, our sons Nathanael and Martin, and present wife Judy. They put up with a lot of me being gone! I promoted Roy Sims to assistant chief that year, and the journey began.
Over the next 16 years we continued to serve and protect our citizens or anyone that entered into our city limits with well-trained firefighters, leaving things better than we found them. The city supported us and built three new stations replacing two old stations, and adding station #3. We were able to establish a Regional Homeland Security Response team for Region G, and other specialized response capabilities. We were blessed to have accrued over two million dollars in federal grants over the years. The Howell County Fire Chiefs Association was created, which allowed for automatic aid agreements throughout the county, Neighbors helping neighbors!
I am proud to be from West Plains, home of the Zizzers! God has been good to me and protected me over the last 35 years. Looking back one thing I am most thankful and proud of, is everyone went home on my watch.