Louisburg fire chief to retire after more than three decades at helm

By John VanPelt
Miami County Republic – May 30, 2018

It was 1962 and Paul Richards was just 6 years old, playing at his home less than a block from Fox Hall and the old downtown fire station. Richards heard the alarm sound and rushed down to the fire station to open the doors so the firefighters could get the trucks out faster. He’s been heading to the fire station ever since.

Richards, who has been Louisburg fire chief for more than three decades, recently announced his intention to retire later this year. Brad Seely, who has worked with Richards as a Louisburg firefighter for 44 years, will take the helm of the department.

When Richards was just a 14-year-old high school student, he and a couple of other students started working as firefighters for the city of Louisburg.

“I was fighting fires in high school,” Richards said. “When the siren went off, we could leave class. That’s the reason my dad said I got into it was because it got me out of school. That’s just one of the many stories he said about me.”

Richards continued as a firefighter after graduating from Louisburg High School in 1973. He found full-time work at an auto parts store, working for 20 years in Louisburg and Paola, all the while volunteering for the fire department.

He was promoted within the fire department and eventually named fire chief. While Richards does not have grandchildren, he said there are kids that call him “Grandpa” because they see him all the time.

“But, most kids know me as ‘Chiefie,’” he said, indicating a plaque on the wall inscribed with that sobriquet. “I got that name years ago from a firefighter, and it’s kind of hung.

“I enjoyed being the fire chief for all these years,” Richards said. “I want to help people like it says on the sign there (he points to a wall hanging in his office), ‘You gave me this life with a request quite small; you said love thy neighbor, so I answer the call.’”

With his retirement approaching, Richards said he is most looking forward to “sleeping all night long.” It depends on the time of year, he said, but there are busy times where the fire department is called nearly every night.

“Back in the late 1970s/early ‘80s, we averaged 52 calls per year,” Richards said. “We went way past that and we run an average of 260 to 270 calls per year now.”

Richards said what he will miss most is the people he works with every day, some of whom he has worked with for decades including Seely (44 years), Stan Silance (34 years), Arlen Thompson (28 years) and Steve Town (26 years).

“Ninety percent of the people involved as volunteer firemen want to help somebody and do something good for their community,” Richards said. “They are all my brothers. I will still be around here in town; I’m not going anywhere. If they run into something and they don’t know what to do, all they have to do is call me and I’ll be there to help them.”

Seely, who was approved as the next fire chief May 21 by the Louisburg City Council, has worked with Richards the longest. Seely also started volunteering as a firefighter when he was in high school, just 16 years old.

“He’s (Richard’s) a great role model and leader,” Seely said. “It’s been awesome working with him all these years.”

Town agreed that working with Richards has been a wonderful experience.

“Working alongside of Paul has been outstanding and has helped me grow as an individual,” Town said. “Paul places his members first and is always looking out for his ‘family’ and their family. He has taken a wide variety of individuals, ages and occupations over the years and meshed them into a professional department the community can be proud of.”

Seely said he is a bit apprehensive about taking over the role of fire chief.

“It’s kind of scary because of all the responsibility,” Seely said. “I’ve got pretty big shoes to fill in making sure the guys go home safe from every call.”

Seely will not be alone in ensuring that. With the promotion of Seely from assistant fire chief to fire chief, the City Council also approved May 21 the promotion of the three current captains — Jerry Rittinghouse, Josh Weber and Arlen Thompson — to be assistant fire chiefs.

While the fire department office hours will be reduced from 40 to 20 per week, this will not affect emergency response times.

“Fire department service will be as good as it has always been,” Seely said. “The level of fire protection will stay the same.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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