When talking about Fire Chief Williams in the Rolla area, people will now have to clarify which chief they mean.
There is Chief Robert Williams of the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue, but the newest Chief Williams is Walter Williams, who was appointed the new permanent volunteer chief of the Rolla Rural Fire Protection District (RRFPD) last week.
The fire district’s board of directors made the appointment by a unanimous decision at a meeting March 13. That also marks the official start date for the new fire chief.
Williams, 47, said he was somewhat surprised when he learned of the news.
“I’ve worked for multiple departments — some paid, some volunteer — and I’ve seen how different departments work and I think I have some good ideas to help this department,” he said.
Williams has been in the fire service for 18 years. He also has 14 years’ experience as a medic. He is certified in fire officer 1 and 2, fire instructor 1, fire investigator, fire inspector, hazmat operations and paramedic.
“I worked in the business world but decided I wanted to make a career change and I fell in love with firefighting,” Williams said.
He started off as a volunteer firefighter in Cedar Hill for three years and also worked for three years as a volunteer firefighter in High Ridge.
Williams later moved to Springfield and received his paramedic license at St. John’s, now Mercy. While in the Springfield area, he became the first paid firefighter with the Strafford Fire Protection District. He worked there for three years.
Williams later moved to St. Louis and started working for the Webster Groves Fire Department, where he is currently acting captain, a firefighter-paramedic and a driver. He said he plans to keep his job with the Webster Groves department while remaining chief here.
About 10 years ago, Williams moved to the Rolla area and volunteered with the RRFPD from 2002-09 while continuing to work in Webster Groves.
Williams said he wants to take his time as he becomes familiar with the local department again. “I want to look for the best way to use our resources to better serve our community,” he said.
One of the changes he is considering making to the department is not requiring firefighters who work on weekends to be at the fire station during their shifts. Instead, they would be on-call but still have time to be with their families.
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“I’m a family-oriented guy and since we have a lot of volunteers, it’s hard to expect them to stay at the station,” he said.
The new chief also wants to improve training for firefighters “to be the top notch department they can be and be prepared for a variety of calls and have the knowledge and skills to be able to do what they need to do,” he said.
He also wants to work and train with other area fire departments so they all can become familiar with how each operates. Additionally, he wants to begin offering CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training to the public.
Williams said he is currently accepting applications for interested volunteer firefighters to join the department. Those ages 15-18 can be cadets and people ages 18 and over can be firefighters. The department will provide training, he said.
Interested applicants can call the department at 573-341-2211 or stop by the headquarters at 1575 E. Lions Club Drive Tuesday nights.
Fire Board Chairman Bill Mason said the board interviewed six applicants, including Williams, for the chief position.
“We thought that bringing new ideas to the fire department was a great idea,” Mason said.
Williams replaces Jeremy Light, who has served as interim chief since Sept. 13, 2012. Light was appointed to the position by the fire board after the previous chief Bruce Southard resigned for personal reasons.
Southard served as fire chief since 1999.
Williams will be the second permanent fire chief since the district was formed in 2004. It will be up to him to name assistant or deputy chiefs.
In related fire district news, it was discovered that Josh Ratliff, who was recently appointed to the board of directors to fill the term of Harold Bennish, who resigned, does not live in the district and is ineligible to serve on the fire board. A special meeting will be held to appoint a new member, whose term will expire in April 2014.