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County fire chiefs step down

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By Jimmie Earls

Two fire chiefs in Washington County have recently stepped down from their positions, and while they each have a love of firefighting in common, their reasons for stepping down are totally different.

In the case of former Willisburg Fire Chief Kevin Devine, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day. In addition to his duties with the Willisburg Volunteer Fire department, Devine is also the director of the Washington County Office of Emergency Management

“I just don’t have the time to be able to do the job that’s needed to be done,” said Devine. “The state’s new director of emergency management is putting more things onto the county directors as far as things to do. We’re updating the county emergency operation plan, which is taking up a lot of time, plus our StormReady project, and these all require a lot of time. Right now, it’s better for me to step aside as fire chief and let somebody else do it. With everything with emergency management and working full-time in my office in Lexington, it makes it very tough on me.”

Taking Devine’s place as WVFD fire chief is Jessie Carney.

“He’s very familiar with the position,” added Devine. “He was chief a few years back until I got it two years ago, and he’s just been re-elected.”

Devine has been a firefighter for 22 years. During his time as chief, he is proud of the improvements made to the department, such as the new pumper truck purchased in 2008. Although he will no longer be chief, he said he will still be an active member of the department.

While Devine may be wishing there were two or three of him to go around, another fire chief in Washington County is looking forward to slowing down, if just for a little while.

Bobby Russell recently stepped down as the fire chief for the Mackville Volunteer Fire Department.

“It’s a young man’s game,” Russell said. “I’ve been chief for 20 years, and I just decided it was time for some new leadership to take over and see if they can go a little further with the department. That’s kind of what I did when I came on. I think I’ve gone about as far as I can, so I turn it over to some young blood.”

The new fire chief for the MVFD is Nathan Cochran, whom Russell said is well-qualified for the position.

“He’s a good man, he’s been on the department for about eight to 10 years,” Russell said. “I wouldn’t turn it over to just anybody.”

Although he doesn’t claim any of the credit, over his 20 years of service as chief, Russell has been instrumental in building the department up and making sure it has the proper equipment to do the job.

“One thing that has really helped us is the way the Washington County Fiscal Court has stepped up to support us with a yearly budget,” Russell said. “That has enabled us to buy new and improved equipment. We also went from just being a fire department to also being a rescue squad. We’re now able to perform medical runs and better assist our community. We went from a 1942 model truck to buying a fire truck in 1998, and we purchased a new rescue truck in 2005. When I came on, we had three partial sets of turnout gear, not enough to suit one person completely, and we had one air pack. Now we have 10 air packs and enough gear to fully outfit 16 firefighters. Before, we never really had any idea of saving a house; we were just hoping to save stuff around it, that’s really what we were shooting for. You don’t always save them, but now we have a lot better chance with better equipment.”

The MVFD is run independently from the Washington County Fire Protection Association, and is run by a board of trustees who make all of the department’s financial decisions.

“I don’t take any of the credit because every time I’ve gone to them about problems or needing equipment, they’ve always stepped up and tried to make it happen. I couldn’t have done anything without their support, so I’m really appreciative of the board. They’ve supported us and what we’re trying to accomplish, which is to provide a safer community for our people here.”

Russell has served on the Mackville Fire Department for about 26 years, joining around 1983.

“The original fire chief was R.C. Hendren and he did that job for 22 years,” Russell said. “That was when there were some older guys on the department, and they knew they needed some younger guys to come in and help take over. They put the word out, and I was young at the time and lived in Mackville, so I thought I could help out a little bit. My dad, Clifton, my two brothers and some other young ones came on at that time. As time went on, I got to asking some questions about how training worked, and I guess because I was asking the most questions, I ended up in the chief’s position. Now, I’ll still stay on, but it’s time for some new leadership.”

There are approximately 16 members of the MVFD. In order for the department to receive state aid, there must be 15 members and a chief, and at least half of the members have to have received training.

“We have a couple young members right now who are not on the roster,” Russell added. “We want to be sure they are going to be interested and put some time in. To get state money, you have to have 15 firefighters and a chief. Of those, half of them have to be certified firefighters. If I add somebody on who is not certified, then that tips the scale and I have to make sure that it tips my way.”

During the day, Russell works for the Washington County Board of Education performing building maintenance.

“I’ve done that for about three years,” he added. “Before that, I farmed pretty much full-time and I drove a school bus for 22 years.”

Russell said that there is one difference between driving a fire truck and a school bus.

“Driving a fire truck is a lot easier because you don’t have kids back there hollering,” he laughed.