WEST POINT — Spencer Cheatham has been a firefighter most of his adult life.
In fact, the longtime West Point resident knew he wanted to be a firefighter ever since he saw the TV show “Emergency!” a 1970s series about a paramedic rescue service in Los Angeles.
“I used to watch it as a kid and had a few toys, as well as the lunch box,” he said.
Cheatham temporarily put that dream on hold when he went to college at George Mason University. But as soon as he got home, he volunteered for the West Point Volunteer Fire Department. Now he is the first full-time head of the department.
Already, he is working to increase the number of volunteers and increase the staff while maintaining his commitment to keeping the community safe.
Although it has been in operation since 1904, the volunteer fire department only hired its first full-time fire chief earlier this year. The department approached the city council about a year ago to request that the position of chief be made full-time, according to city manager John Edwards. Cheatham was appointed on May 1.
“They saw the ability-based need to provide consistency not only in strategic leadership, but also in administration,” Edwards said. “After reviewing their application, the council fully accepted their assessment and worked hand-in-hand with them to hire the fire chief.”
The City of West Point currently funds the fire department, a separate entity from the city, at $361,607 per year, of which $60,000 is for appliance replacement.
The fire department serves approximately 3,420 people at West Point, as well as approximately 17,835 at King William, 6,965 at King & Queen, and 25,415 at New Kent.
Edwards estimates that the service answers about 750 calls a year. Of these calls, nearly 85% are medical emergencies, 8% are rescues, 5% are fires, and the remaining 7% are service calls.
Cheatham answered many of these calls.
He has been a volunteer with the fire department since 1995 and has served as a firefighter, paramedic, captain, deputy chief and fire chief. He previously held several positions with New Kent Fire-Rescue from 2004 to 2010, including firefighter/EMT, lieutenant, acting fire chief and battalion chief.
According to the West Point Fire Department, Cheatham has a long list of accomplishments, certifications and responsibilities in the emergency community.
Since 1995, he has been a program manager and subject matter expert with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, with which he develops national volunteer programs and meets with individual departments on leadership, recruitment and retention. A course he developed on volunteer administrative leadership won two Brandon Hall Educational Excellence Awards.
Cheatham also helps write grants needed to secure federal funding and has presented at national and state conferences on leadership, recruitment, and retention. To date, he has secured over $4.5 million in federal grants to help local and state ministries.
Additionally, Cheatham holds numerous certifications in fire, EMS, rescue and emergency management and has published over a dozen articles in various fire service publications. He has also served as an assistant instructor with the Virginia Department of Fire Programs and serves on local advisory committees.
Cheatham credits his time to the department for preparing him for the full-time position.
“Probably more than certificates, it’s the experience I’ve gained from being around and learning from great people in the department from the time I arrived until now,” he said. “We had and currently have very experienced people who want the best for the community. »
It’s this group of volunteers, which includes his wife Carolyn, and his role model that sets the town apart, according to Cheatham.
“The staffing model we use, very experienced part-time staff complemented by volunteers, is not used anywhere else that I know of,” he said. “I am excited about the level of service this model can bring to the community. »
This service can be a challenge for the department due to its small size, location and lack of staff.
“Responding to a simple EMS call with two people isn’t difficult, but once incidents rise above that level, the odds of successfully addressing them increase exponentially when you get plenty of trained personnel on the scene quickly. We can’t do that though,” Cheatham said.
“Our staff have to be excellent at their jobs because for the foreseeable future the nearest help will be 10 minutes away. That’s a long time when you only have two people fighting a fire or cutting someone from a car or you are performing CPR.
“Hopefully we can increase our staff to help the community in greater capacity for these types of calls,” he added.
Cheatham said his number one goal will always be to “keep the community safe through the provision of qualified fire, rescue and medical emergency services”, he said.
Although he’s only been in the full-time position for two months, Cheatham is thrilled to have the opportunity to better serve the city.
“I can do a job that I’ve loved doing for many years for free, with great people, and in my hometown,” Cheatham said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
For more information about West Point’s volunteer service, visit: wpfvr.com.
Amy Jo Martin, [email protected]