“It is fairly easy to come and talk about something I love and have dedicated my life to,” Woody said.
Nicholas Lillios, program chairman, said Woody began as a member of the military police in the U.S. Army before retiring and serving the Cleveland community for 16 years at the Cleveland Police Department. Woody accepted the position of fire chief for Bradley County in 2000. He serves on the board of the Tennessee Fire Chief Association.
“I am walking on a path set by men who wore this uniform before me. ... It’s not what they do, it’s who they are,” Woody said. “Our history began in the early 1950s. It began as a very loose-knit call for able-bodied men.”
Several men showed up to form a rescue party to recover a body in Polk County. The victim’s name was Lee Atchley. Out of this rescue attempt came the Lee Atchley Memorial and Rescue Service. Initially, the service performed water rescues and retrievals. In 1958, Morris Green took an interest in civil defense and became the Civil Defense director. From these beginnings would come Bradley County Fire-Rescue.
“We have come a long way. There have been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears put into what we do,” Woody said.
Woody said the Civil Defense Agency fought fires from the 1950s until around 1974.
“They went in to a contract with the city of Cleveland and that has been ongoing up until June of 2013 when the contract expires. At which time, Bradley County [Fire-Rescue] will assume all prior responsibilities in the county,” Woody said.
BCFR currently operates 10 fire stations, two of which are paid with a staff of 24. According to Woody, eight fire stations are operated seven days a week with a staff of about 90 volunteers. The volunteers complete the same training regimen as paid firemen. Volunteers often take much longer due to scheduling.
“The ranks of volunteerism begins to wane off after a little bit,” Woody said. “We retain one out of 10 volunteers for a lifetime of doing this, or even for several years. Many life factors compete with volunteering.”
Many volunteers are unwilling to lay their lives on the line. Woody said the No. 1 service provided to the community is customer service.
“We provide services for the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our main focus is fire prevention. We hope to put ourselves out of business when it comes to fire,” Woody said. “In reality, we will not ever do that, but our job is to hope to achieve that through fire prevention efforts.”
Fire prevention efforts include speaking at schools, organizations, clubs, and other venues.
Additional services include: fire response, fire investigation, vehicle rescue, swift water work and underwater recovery and investigation, trench rescue, hazardous materials response, weather related issues, and searching for lost or missing persons among other services.
BCFR is currently a part of the Tri-State Mutual Aid Association. There are 34 fire departments and four hazardous material teams and fire rescue squads within the association. Members are from the North Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee areas.
“Most recently we were on a 36-hour mulch fire,” Woody said. “We utilized ladders from Cleveland, East Ridge, Athens, and Bradley County. Everybody does not have three or four ladders at a station when needed.”
The association allows for the pooling of resources between departments, teams, and squads. According to Woody, it is crucial for Bradley County to help its neighbors as Bradley County utilizes the services, as well.
Bradley County will be building three new stations and hiring an additional 36 firemen over the next year. Woody said there must be five stations up and running with a paid staff of 64 by June 30, 2013.
“We hope to maintain our volunteer staff somewhere in the area of 70 to 80,” Woody said. “Recruitment and retention of our volunteers is very important to us. We could not function without them. They perform an intricate part of our day to day activities alongside our paid staff.”