A lifetime of devotion to work they love is something that not many people can boast about, but Williamsburg Fire Chief Richard Malott has been a firefighter all his life and says that he really doesn’t want to step down.
“I don’t want people to think I’m walking away or anything like that,” said Malott. “I’m just giving up the boss’s job.”
Malott remembers hanging out at the fire station when he was about 6-years-old. His father, Virgil Malott, was the assistant chief for the Williamsburg Fire Department. According to Richard Malott, his father was also well-known in Clermont County for his ability to play baseball.
Malott officially joined the department as a volunteer on May 14, 1962. He worked for Ford Motor Company for 27 years, retiring in 1976. When an opening for a full-time fire chief came up in 1977, he was chosen to fill the spot.
"Being named chief was one of the high points in my life," he said. "I was chosen from several candidates. We were all volunteers back then. We didn't hire anyone as a full-time firefighter until later."
Malott worked full-time, but he received part-time pay.
"I wasn't in it for the money," he said.
Now the department has two full-time firefighters and 35 volunteers on staff.
Malott shared some of the changes he has experienced in his 47 years as a firefighter for Williamsburg.
"We used to ride in the old '35 Seagrave fire engine, a convertible, we used to be out in the weather. Now we have heat and air conditioning, it's like being home when you are in the cab of the new engines," he said. "We never used to have equipment like we have now, like air tanks and masks. The old '35 engine cost $3,400 when it was purchased new. The last model we purchased was a 2008 pumper. It cost $254,000. It's not elaborate, not the top-of-the-line model, but not the cheapest either."
Malott pulled a folder from his drawer and noted that on July 10, 1937 the department spent $82.66 for eight leather helmets.
"Now one helmet costs about $400," he said.
Malott said that the best training he ever received was in Oct. 1969.
"The village was burning down one block of old buildings, they were really in bad shape and the cost to tear them down was more than what the village wanted to spend, so they opted to burn them down," said Malott. "Every Sunday for a month, we burned several buildings down until they were all gone. People lined the sidewalks in chairs to watch us. We just kept burning one building after another."
He noted that the preacher was the only person in town to complain.
"He said all his congregation was coming to watch the firemen and not getting to church," he said.
Malott said there have been many changes in the department over the years, but not all of them were good.
"There is not as much a sense of camaraderie like we used to have," said Malott. "We are still here to save lives and property, but it has become more of a business and there are a lot more laws governing what we do."
He said he won't miss all the paperwork which accompanies the job as chief.
"We have always been community-centered. Always have been - helping the kids across the streets at Halloween and giving rides for the Christmas Walk every year. Even the moms and dads want to ride in the fire truck," he said. "We've been doing these things for 40 years. As long as there are volunteers here, we will keep doing community things."
According to Malott, the worst day of his life happened in 1978 when three children lost their lives in a house fire on Bethel-Concord and Hennings Mill roads.
"To lose kids in a fire bothers me the most," he said. "Losing anybody in a fire is hard, but to lose kids...."
He recalled a close-call on Palm Sunday in 1969. He was caught in a house fire when the house blew up.
"I had to be pulled out and both my ears and hands were burned. My dad was still alive then and he was really upset that I came so close to losing my life," he said. "He felt responsible for me becoming a firefighter."
Malott plans to stay active as a volunteer firefighter, although he doesn't expect to actively fight fires.
"It's gonna be different not coming to work everyday," he said.
He doesn't have any immediate plans for his retirement, but he said he and his wife, Yvonne, will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary next year and they are in the process of planning a trip.
"I met my wife through the fire department, her dad and grandpa were both firefighters," he said. "She has put up with me leaving a lot of times when family things were planned. I know she hated to hear the alarm go off, she not only worried about me, but fighting fires took me away from family time."
The couple have three children, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. Most of his family was in town on Sunday, Dec. 13 for a retirement party hosted by the department and Williamsburg Township trustees. He was presented a plaque which will be placed on the building. The building is being re-named in his honor.
"I have been honored a number of times for things I have done, but this is really an honor," he said.
Fire Chief Malott will officially step down on Jan. 1, 2010. On Thursday, Dec. 17, the trustees named T.J. Spencer as the new chief for Williamsburg Township Emergency Services. Spencer has been a member of the department for 19 years and has served as assistant chief for the last several years.
"He'll be a good one," said Malott. "If I was doing the choosing myself, I think I might pick him."