Daviess County Fire Chief Dwane Smeathers, who began his career as a professional firefighter 30 years ago and spent the last 10 years as county fire chief, will retire from the department at the end of the month.
Smeathers said he had been planning on an August retirement but considered putting it off after the fire department's East County Station on Kentucky 54 was struck by lightning in early July.
"I thought, 'maybe I should stay on,' " Smeathers said Monday during an interview at the new Airport Fire Station.
"If the station hadn't been hit by fire ... it would have been something else trying to hold me here," Smeathers said.
But he said, "It has been a great time, but it is time to go."
Smeathers joined the department in 1989 after working for several years as a volunteer firefighter in Yelvington. After retiring for the county fire department, Smeathers said he plans to rejoin the Yelvington department.
Smeathers said while he has enjoyed the work, "I haven't had as much time as I wanted to do things for myself. Not that I regretted it. My staff is wonderful.
"I tell them all the time they make me look good," he said.
After his last official day with the department on Aug. 31, Smeathers said he plans to work around the house and on his small farm, while also being able to respond to fires with the Yelvington department.
The county paid fire department has a strong connection with the volunteer departments, and some members of the paid fire crews also still serve as volunteer firefighters, Smeathers said.
"The best part about the volunteers is we work with them day in and day out," he said. "If they are inclined to become a paid firefighter, they are interviewing every day" as they work with the paid crews on a call.
The county fire department's capabilities have continued to grow during Smeathers' 10 years as chief. Out of the department's 29 firefighters, nine are paramedics and two more are in paramedic training.
"We carry everything on these trucks an ambulance carries, except for the stretcher," Smeathers said. "There have been a lot of lives saved."
The department also had to meet federal standards for airport fire service when Allegiant Air began flying out of airport.
"We have the same requirements as O'Hare" and other major airports, he said.
One thing that has changed over the last 10 years is that firefighters, like law enforcement, are under more scrutiny.
"The biggest thing in the last 10 years, except for (the new Airport Station) is you're always being watched" by bystanders with cellphone cameras, Smeathers said. While that hasn't affected the way the fire department responds to emergencies, it does make firefighters more cautious at vehicle collisions as passing motorists might be paying more attention to recording the scene than to their driving, he said.
A main goal of recent years was to get the new Airport Station constructed, he said. An open house will be held sometime in the future, likely after he has retired.
"I told them they couldn't hold it without me," he said. "I thought, 'what better way to go out than getting to build this facility.' "
Retiring is difficult, Smeathers said, even though he'll still be connected through the Yelvington Fire Department.
"I'm going to miss the guys, the people," Smeathers said. "They are not my employees. Since I'm old enough to be their father, these are my kids, their wives and significant others are my kids.
"I'm definitely going to miss it," Smeathers said. "It's going to be a huge, huge change."
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse