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Jim Schaefer, a volunteer fireman for the past 15 years, was recently voted as the Chester Volunteer Fire Company’s new chief. (Photo courtesy of Jim Schaefer )
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When Jim Gryzbowski, the former fire chief in Chester, announced he wouldn’t be running again, Jim Schaefer submitted his letter of interest in running for chief to the nominating committee. His letter was accepted, he was put on the slate, and on July 1, he was voted chief of the Chester Volunteer Fire Company.
“I want to leave my mark on the town to make sure everything keeps moving forward and that the safety of the town is a priority,” says Jim, who has lived in Chester his whole life. “I’m looking into the future to plan ahead so things roll smoothly.”
Jim has been keeping the town safe for the past 15 years as a volunteer with the department. He first went to the firehouse with a friend from his work because the department needed volunteers to act as patients for a training exercise. After that, he decided to submit an application.
Over the past 15 years, Jim has not only enjoyed the camaraderie of being a volunteer with the department, but the impact he has made on the community.
“The biggest reward is the thank you that you get after you’ve gone to a house for an emergency,” says Jim. “We’ve gotten so many wonderful notes saying ‘Thank you’ or ‘You guys were so professional’ and that type of thing makes you feel good and know you’ve done good for your neighbor and your town.”
As chief, which is also a volunteer position, Jim will manage the 70 volunteers in the department and oversee the operations of the department, making sure equipment and apparatus is up-to-date, paying bills, reviewing the standard operating guidelines, managing the budget, planning for next year’s budget, and more. He also plans to continue to work on the relationships with surrounding mutual aid towns.
With all of the responsibilities, he is at the Fire Department almost every day after his day job—he offers phone technical support for Whelen Engineering—and at least one day of the weekend. Jim also has the support of a deputy chief, an assistant battalion chief, two lieutenants, and about 70 volunteers.
“It’s a huge responsibility—it’s not just yourself you’re responsible for, but the 70 volunteers and the Town of Chester,” says Jim. “I’m glad I have a good support system, especially from the two previous chiefs in my position before me. If I didn’t have them, the job would be a lot harder than it is. I have big shoes to fill.”
While the department has about 70 members, Jim notes that they are always looking for more volunteers as “many hands make light work.” Volunteers for the Junior Division can start at age 14, while senior members must be 18 or older.
Jim estimates that most members spend hundreds of hours a year volunteering between going to calls, training, preparing and holding fundraisers, and spending the weekend at the Chester Fair in the dunk tank, grinder booth, or volunteering as EMS.
“There is a camaraderie in the department—we’re a big family, we work together,” says Jim. “These are people who want to help their neighbor, to help their town, and it makes them feel good that they’re helping somebody. That’s what makes them want to come back. It’s something they enjoy—they enjoy having a big family.”
As a volunteer, there are several classes for training, including a Fire 1 class that teaches the basics of firefighting and trains volunteers how to safely enter a burning building, as well as a choice of an EMT (150 hours) or EMR (50 to 60 hours) course. Jim not only completed those classes, but also completed Fire 2, Fire Instructor 1, and Fire Officer 1 through 4.
“I’ve put in countless hours to better myself and help the department better provide for the town,” says Jim, who enjoys movies, the casino, and canoeing with his girlfriend. “I love the Town of Chester and want to make sure I’m one of those people who helps keep it safe.”
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