'I love this department': New fire chief discusses career, goals

Sara Kuhl/The Register

Sam Kirby poses for a photo in his office.

Throughout the years, not only has Sam Kirby's title changed within the Richmond Fire Department, but so has his outlook when it comes to being a firefighter.

"At a structure fire, that's what we're trained to do, and we love doing it," said Kirby, who recently accepted the Richmond Fire chief position.

However, that's also someone's bad day, when they're losing possessions, Kirby explained.

"I used to have that attitude of, 'Let's get a structure fire today, let's get a structure fire today.' But then you know, some of the older guys are like, 'Don't wish that on anybody.' … And now I understand. You don't want somebody to lose their stuff," he said.

The beginning

Kirby didn't always envision himself as a firefighter, despite his father, Butch Kirby, working for the Richmond Fire Department and retiring from Madison County fire. Instead, he went to Eastern with the hopes of becoming a health teacher and a football coach.

"And I decided college wasn't for me, so I dropped out and started working," he said. "My dad asked me if I wanted to be a firefighter, and I jumped at the idea. Once I started training and stuff, it was -- well, I fell in love with it."

Kirby first started as a volunteer firefighter with Union City and then became a volunteer with the RFD. He also worked at Pattie A. Clay before it became Baptist Heath Hospital as an orderly on the weekends for 40 hours, so he could go to training during the week.

"Starting out, it was just like basic training, nothing real exciting," he said. "Just the things you get to do, it was fun to me. I never missed a training after that. I always wanted to be at training."

Once he was a volunteer with RFD, he had more involved training.

"I started training with a recruit class that came in … they have to get their 400 hours before they come on shift, so I came every day every week and got to do that with them. And just the very first training that I can remember that I really liked, it scared me, but I liked it," Kirby explained.

Back then, the department had a maze building at the training center, and Kirby had to put on the mask for the first time while it was pitch dark inside.

"It terrified me, but it was fun. I've always been one to like being scared and scaring people," he said. "I love scary movies for the feeling of being scared, I guess, but I don't know, it made me have that feeling, and I liked it."

At that point, Kirby had already decided he wanted to pursue a firefighting career, so it was a no-brainer for him when he was offered a job with the RFD. That was in 2001, one year after he joined as a volunteer.

RFD career

In 2008, Kirby was promoted to lieutenant, and for four years, he worked at station four.

"After those years, I was promoted to captain, and I moved to station three, which I loved," he said. "It's probably the best job in the fire department, actually, as captain. …

"You haven't reached quite the responsibility. You just have your core group of guys at that station. It's you and two or three others. You're just responsible for your truck, your station and your guys. You're responsible for training your guys and keeping trucks maintained and that kind of stuff, station maintained and do what the bosses tell you to do."

And he admits that some days are bad, but he still feels the need to serve.

"I've had my days of low morale here, but you know, you work through it," he said. "At some point, you make the decision that no matter how things are going around you, you're going to be happy, you're going to try your best to do what you can do."

Kirby was next promoted to battalion chief, which was another job that Kirby enjoyed. Then, in April of last year, Kirby became assistant chief.

"That's when I moved to a 40-hour work week and eight hours a day. And now here I sit as the chief." he said.

Accepting the position of chief was also something that was an easy decision for Kirby.

"I'm thrilled. I feel like, as the assistant chief, I did a lot of the chief duties, so I feel like I'm prepared, and I'm excited that I can lead the fire department and try my best to take it further," he said. "I love this department, and I feel like I could do the next step each time."

Going forward

"My number one goal is to bring morale back up, and really the only other goal I have at this time is to make this the best fire department that it can be," Kirby said. "I'm really looking forward to doing that."

He said that the first step to bringing up morale is communicating with all the firefighters.

"You'll never make 100 percent of people happy, but you do your best to do what's best for the department and keep a majority happy," he explained. "We're like a family here, and when you come to work, it's just like you're away from your personal family, but you're with your other family. These guys spend 24 hours every third day together."

And as far as making the department the best fire department it can be, Kirby said he has a great working relationship with Mayor Robert Blythe and City Manager Rob Minerich. Because of that relationship, they can work together to make the department better, he explained.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Behind the Badge is a series published once a month in The Register to highlight first responders and those in any related field in Madison County. Know someone who has a good story to share? Email details to skuhl@richmondregister.com.

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