Twenty-seven years ago J.L. Dean of Williamstown turned two important corners in his life. He began a career with Solvay Specialty Polymers in Marietta and became a firefighter with the Williamstown Volunteer Fire Department.
Husband, father and now a grandfather, Dean, 52, was recently named chief of the fire department, succeeding late fire chief Joe Ruf, who passed away in November.
Question: When did you officially become chief?
Answer: Joe retired from the department in October and I was voted in as chief. He had served with the department for 26 years.
Q: How did you decide to become a firefighter?
A: In 1986 I was helping (volunteer fireman) Bill Rowell with some work when he was called out to a house fire on Dry Run Road. I wasn’t allowed to do much, but tried to help out a little, and it was then I decided I wanted to volunteer. I was 25 years old.
Q: Are there other firemen in your family?
A: Yeah. My dad was a firefighter here in Williamstown, and now my son, Kent, also volunteers.
Q: Some fire companies are suffering from a lack of volunteers. What about Williamstown?
A: We’re really fortunate and have at least 30 volunteer members now, including five younger volunteers from Williamstown High School. We’re also fortunate to have at least three trainers in our department who are certified to train new firefighters here, and we welcome volunteers of any age.
But I do know there are some fire departments in the southern area of the state that have as few as 10 volunteers.
Q: The department is sort of centrally located among the Mid-Ohio Valley communities. What areas do you serve?
A: Our official service region covers a radius of about five miles on this side of the river, but we also run mutual aid with Vienna and Waverly volunteer fire departments in West Virginia as well as the Marietta Fire Department and Reno Volunteer Fire Department in Ohio.
And we respond to accidents on I-77 from the Ohio River to West Virginia Route 2.
Q: Are there any industries within your service area?
A: We cover the Fenton Art Glass Company as well as the Hino Motors plant on West Virginia Route 14 and we provide rapid response assistance for the local St. Joseph’s Ambulance Service. We have five EMTs in the department.
Q: How is the department doing financially?
A: We’re doing OK, although grant funding is becoming harder to get. We do receive funding from the state as well as the county, and try to cover the rest with fundraisers like weekly drawings and our annual fireman’s social.
Q: Any concerns for the department’s future?
A: There are new regulations coming down from the federal and state government that require extra training for volunteer firefighters. It’s hard to find the time for that training, and it can put a cost burden on volunteer companies. But it helps that we have three trainers here who can provide training for us as well as for other area departments.
Q: There may be people interested in volunteering with the department. How can they get involved?
A: Just contact any Williamstown firefighter, or come to our regular Thursday night meetings at the fire station (on the corner of Fifth Street and Victoria Avenue in Williamstown). They can also call the city building 304-375-7761.
Sam Shawver conducted this interview.