First person: Fire chief celebrating 35 years

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Fire chief Ray Westerman will celebrate 35 years with the department on Jan. 16.

On Jan. 16, Fire Chief Ray Westerman will celebrate 35 years with the Clovis Fire Department.

He was hired as a probationary fire fighter at age 18 and worked is way up through the ranks to his current position. But he doesn’t have the most seniority in the department. Battalion Chief Ike Burns has six months more and Lt. Ron Bannister has about three weeks more.

At the beginning: I started here kind of by chance. I heard about coming to work at the Clovis Fire Department, filled out an application and tested. They expanded the number of personnel from two shifts and added a third shift so there was a pretty good expansion of hiring and I was one of those selected at the time.

Everything changes: Virtually, everything has changed in the last 35 years. There are some things that have remained unchanged and those might be easier to explain rather than all the changes. One of the things that have not changed, we do still send fire fighters into burning structures. That has not changed and we still use water to put them out. But virtually everything else that you think about when it comes to fire fighting and the techniques and the equipment and the methods we use, the materials that are used to construct homes and businesses and the contents have changed in the last 35 years. The Emergency Medical Services program has (undergone) some major changes also. Now, every fire station in town now has a group of fire fighters and EMTs. Everybody wears two patches, they perform two jobs. It’s a wonderful job and I still enjoy coming to work every day.

Another job: I had aspirations when I was young to be an accountant, actually. I had done really well in my junior and senior years of high school with the accounting and bookkeeping classes that were given. I really enjoyed it a great deal but it never really came to fruition. However, in one sense I still am an accountant. I have a $6.5 million dollar budget I have to construct and administer and it has it’s own set of challenges. Even though I’m not a certified public accountant, a lot of those thoughts are used in the production of our services here.

In a nutshell: At 52 years of age, I have no immediate plans to retire. There are still some things I’d like to see accomplished under this administration. When I committed to providing this community with a better staffed, better equipped, better trained organization and there is still some work to do there. In a nutshell, I’m not done yet.

Misconceptions: A lot of people have the misconception that the fire chief has the most important function in the fire department. That is not true. If your home or business is on fire, you don’t need a fire chief, you need a fire fighter and if you’ve been involved in an automobile accident or with some other form of trauma or have a medical problem or a heart attack, you don’t need a fire chief, you need a paramedic. Those are people who have the most important function in this organization.