WESTWOOD The Westwood Volunteer Fire Department’s part-time chief has been promoted to full-time chief, a reflection of the increasing demands on the department and his own time.
Brent Webster, a member of the department for 36 years and its chief for 25 years, was elevated to full-time because the his job duties require it, according to Chuck Cremeans, a member of the department’s board of directors.
“We have had a steady increase in call volume in the last several years and the demands add more duties for the fire chief,” he said.
Modern fire departments require more training, inspections, pre-planning and administrative work, he said. “Making Brent full-time will enable him to do more work and do it more efficiently.”
Calls have increased from an average of 60-80 per year when he first joined the department to around 360, “the new normal,” Webster said Thursday from the department’s firehouse on Main Street, where he was finishing an accident report.
Besides fires, the department gets called out for downed trees, cardiac arrests, overdoses and myriad other emergencies.
“When people need help, they call the fire department, and we are here to help. We respond to the things others don’t,” he said.
The fire district’s tax base has shrunk, particularly with the AK Steel shutdown, which adds time-consuming grant-writing chores to his duties. “These grants are competitive, and that’s the only way we are going to survive here,” he said.
Webster, 47, started at the department as a junior firefighter when he was 10, washing trucks, rolling hoses and starting to learn the skills he would need to fight fires.
The legal age to fight real fires is 18, but Webster managed to jump on a truck to fight his first fire when he was 16. He got caught and the department clamped down after that, he said.
Since then, he has rolled on thousands of calls, and fought fires ranging from trailers to the former ethanol plant at South Point.
Webster will keep his current job as a Russell police officer for another year and a half for retirement reasons and says he is not worried about being able to work 80-hour weeks because he can delegate tasks to his command staff.
Firefighting is a family affair for Webster — his wife Brandi is on the department, his son Kyle is a rookie firefighter for the Huntington department, and his other son, 12-year-old Hayden, is a junior firefighter.
“Brent knows the community, and everyone in the community knows him, so he’s the perfect person for the job, with his knowledge of the job and the community,” Cremeans said.