When Keith Barrett started as a volunteer for the Brookfield Township Fire Department, he rode his bicycle to the station.
He was 16.
Now 63, Barrett is stepping away from the only career he has ever known — firefighting. He resigned as fire chief as of Dec. 31 for health reasons.
Barrett has dedicated his life to the department, said Fire Capt. Matt Gordon.
“We’re the best fire department and emergency medical service in the county for a reason, and that reason is largely due to Keith Barrett,” Gordon said.
As a kid, Barrett would hear the sirens and “always wanted to know where they were going,” he said.
He started as a volunteer in 1970 and was hired full time in 1975, becoming chief in 1982.
The most rewarding part of the job is “Getting to know the people,” Barrett said.
“I’ll bet I’ve met most everybody in the township in one way or another over 40 years,” he said.
A frequent visitor to the school for fire prevention activities, Barrett said children latch onto a fire chief.
“They know you forever,” he said.
Barrett’s visibility is shown in the positive comments and good wishes extended to him on NEWS On the Green’s Facebook page.
“Keith is a great person to work for,” Gordon said. “Interpersonally, he’s very well-known, well-liked in the community,”
Barrett said he never considered another career or moving to a different fire department.
“I was always happy here,” the Masury native said. “I’ve enjoyed being the fire chief, and I hope I made an impression with the service we’ve provided. I hope to see everybody when I’m out and about.”
Barrett leaves a job where the administrative demands have increased several fold over the years — from the amount of information required for a fire report and the training demanded of firefighters and medical personnel, to keeping up with changing regulations.
“It’s all for the better,” Barrett said. “People are more educated. The more educated, the better.”
The department grew when it added emergency medical response, hiring paramedics as well as firefighters. That means there are now five people serving on a shift instead of two, and the department employs seven full-time and 25 part-time, with about 12 volunteers augmenting the roster.
“If we weren’t running EMS, it’s hard to justify that many people,” Barrett said. “We actually made money with the EMS.”
The department receives about 1,750 medical calls a year.
“The EMS is what keeps us busy,” Barrett said. “Fire calls, we don’t get a lot of fire calls.”
Looking down the road, Barrett predicted that fire departments will consolidate and fire districts will be formed with one fire department serving multiple communities. Brookfield has inched that way by serving Hartford under a contract.
“You can only tax the taxpayer so much,” Barrett said, noting that fire districts have worked well in Virginia and Florida. “We’re just not going to survive on our own.”
The township trustees named Capt. David Coffy as interim chief while they search for a new chief.
“I think they’ll arrive at a good decision,” Barrett said of the hiring of his replacement.
In retirement, aside from battling to regain his health, Barrett said he would like to travel.
“I’ve been to all 50 states, most of Mexico, most of Canada,” he said. “I guess I’d like to go overseas, to Italy and London and Germany. I enjoy traveling.”