Career winding down for longtime fire chief

Fire Chief Brad Smith says he is grateful for the chance to help the Derby’s department grow along with the city. He began his career in the profession in Winfield in 1977 as a firefighter.

Derby Fire Chief Brad Smith’s career has been a satisfying endeavor, but the time has come to stop being on call for the latest alarm and make a change in his life’s direction.

With that in mind, Derby’s first full-time paid fire chief will be retiring July 5, the day after the city’s new Fire Station 81 opens.

Smith, 67, started in the profession in 1977 and came to Derby in 2004. He transitioned the department from all-volunteer to mainly paid.

“It’s been very fulfilling to watch the city grow like it did. There were just a lot of things going on,” he said.

There are probably few others who had the chance to do what he did, Smith said.

“It’s been amazing to see this department grow,” Smith said.

When Smith started, there were nine paid staff. Now there are 23 full-time professional fire staff and 13 part-timers. The community spirit also lives on as there are five volunteers, too.

Derby may be 150 years old, but its fire services are fairly young, having started in 1952. Services before that were provided by the county, and response times could be slow because of distance, he said.

But with a growing city, the volunteers – who numbered about 35 – knew there had to be a change.

“They made sure the support was there,” Smith said. “It was probably not easy for them.”

Smith stated the support of the public, including having part of a special sales tax go to the department, along with city management, as examples of public support.

During his tenure, Smith has made quicker response times one of his priorities, aiming for a four minute or less timeframe if possible.

That’s become especially vital now, he said, as the number of medical-related calls have grown.

“If you can get there in four minutes, it makes a lot of difference for their recovery,” he said, of stroke or heart attack victims.

There also have been upgrades in operations, including obtaining a specialized rescue boat and training of staff in water rescue operations.

Smith is proud of the way the department has helped other people in the area, state and region with mutual aid, including sending staff to assist with wildfires and working to rescue flood victims.

“We help each other out and the city manager and elected officials have been supportive of that,” he said.

One of the most memorable fires for Smith was a blaze in Cresthill that spread from one house to another, with the wind making it a challenge.

Ironically, as a young man, Smith had never given fire service a thought as a career.

“In fact, I thought I would possibly go into law enforcement,” he said.

However, while living in Winfield, he developed a friendship with a firefighter at the Winfield Fire Department who encouraged Smith to apply. Smith did, and got the job.

Smith spent the majority of his career, from 1977 to 2001, in Winfield, working his way up to captain. He then moved to El Dorado to be its fire chief from 2001 to 2004 before taking the Derby job.

Smith earned a degree in Fire Science from Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs and earned numerous certifications at the University of Kansas.

While in El Dorado, he became the area district representative for the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs.

Smith also has training in such areas as bioterrorism, radiological monitoring, and hazardous materials along with fire and arson investigations.

Be a team player

No matter where Smith was or what he did, he says it’s a people-oriented endeavor.

The field is one which attracts people who want to help others in the community, thus it requires a team player

It also requires an understanding home front as firefighters are away from home for 24 hours at a time. They work for a day and night and then have 48 hours off, then start another 24-hour shift.

Smith said he’s proud of “so many good people in the department,” and is protective of their safety and trying to balance their family life.

Families are welcome to come by the station to visit or a firefighter may be able to stop by a child’s sporting event. That also helps get staff out into the public.

“I always want our fire personnel to have a presence in the community, so the public knows they’re not just sitting in the firehouse but they’re out and about,” he said.

A typical day is not just responding to alarms, but working on inspections, maintaining equipment and hydrants and training – lots of training – usually a couple of hours each day.

That pays off when a call comes in.

They still come in for Smith, who last week woke up to respond to a 1 a.m. business fire.

He or Assistant Chief Bill Pater go to all structure fires to lead the command efforts.

Since 1977, Smith has always had a phone, radio, page or app by his side so he is informed of alarms.

“You never know when that call is coming in,” he said. “That will be one of the things I won’t miss. I’ll clean off my nightstand and there won’t be anything but the TV remote control on it.”

Smith plans to spend more time with family, including his wife Christy, their five children and 14 grandchildren.

Three of the children live in the area and two in Texas.

“We want to travel while we’re physically able to,” he said.

A new chief hasn’t been named yet, but Smith said the city manager is in the process of working on his replacement.

While he will be retired, Smith said there won’t be a shortage of things to do.

“I have tended to put off a honey-do list until after July 5,” he said with a laugh.

There will be a come-and-go retirement reception for Smith from 10 a.m. to noon July 5 at the new Station 81 at the southwest corner of Madison and Woodlawn. The public is invited to the event.