Hilliard Northwest News

Kaufman's path to fire chief began with late start

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KEVIN CORVO/THISWEEKNEWS
Norwich Township fire Chief Bob Kaufman will retire March 7 after 27 years with the department.
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Retiring Norwich Township fire Chief Bob Kaufman says his career as a firefighter was a calling, albeit one he did not immediately answer.

Kaufman, 62, was 35 years old in 1987 when he joined the Norwich Township Fire Department as a full-time firefighter.

He will retire March 7 after two years and six weeks as chief during his 27-year career.

"It's just time (to retire)," Kaufman said. "If I was younger, I think I'd stay. But it's time to start another chapter of my life."

Unlike some firefighters, none of Kaufman's relatives were firefighters. He said as a child, he witnessed an intense barn fire one night near his rural Hayden Road home, an event that likely planted the seed for his desire to battle blazes.

Kaufman said he attempted to join the Columbus Division of Fire after graduating from Hilliard High School in 1970, but there were no immediate opportunities.

So he got a job at the Sears Distribution Center while raising a family with his wife, Janice, whom he first met while both were students at Hilliard High School.

In 1985, he applied to the Norwich Township department but again found no full-time opening.

Nevertheless, he completed a 32-hour classroom fire course then began a 200-hour training course.

"It was a lot of weekends and nights away from my family because I was still working at the distribution center," Kaufman said.

Finally, on Jan. 1, 1987, Kaufman joined the Norwich Township Fire Department full time and, at $15,500 a year, took a pay cut to answer his calling.

"I knew I had 15 years in (at the distribution center), but I knew I had 30 more years to work, and I knew I wanted to (work at) a fire department," Kaufman said.

Kaufman said his wife, Janice, worked at the post office to earn additional money during the early part of his new career.

Kaufman said his 27 years of service were filled with good days and bad days.

Incidents involving children were always the most difficult, he said.

Kaufman also reflected on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City's Word Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., using hijacked commercial airplanes. A fourth plane went down in rural Pennsylvania after passengers fought with hijackers for control.

A captain at the time, Kaufman was working a 24-hour shift and had just went off duty at 8 a.m. Sept. 11. He was en route to his daughter's house to help with a home-improvement project.

"It's something I'll -- no one -- ever will forget," he said.

Eight years later in 2009, he and other members of the fire department and the Hilliard Division of Police traveled to New York City where a flagpole and several pieces of steel girders from the World Trade Center towers were transported back to Hilliard to be used in two memorials.

"It was very moving (to be inside the hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport where the remnants are stored)," Kaufman said.

Prior to succeeding David Long as chief on Jan. 21, 2012, he was named assistant chief in 2004, captain in 1999 and lieutenant in 1993.

Kaufman said he considered the advice of another chief who told him he would know when it was time to retire.

"It's time for younger people like (Jeff Warren) to lead," Kaufman said. "I came on (with) the department at the right time, just when it was growing, and got an opportunity I never thought then I would have."

Assistant Chief Jeff Warren was named chief when Kaufman announced his retirement in January.

Kaufman said traveling, including an imminent trip to Arizona, and spending more time with his wife, three children and seven grandchildren are among his retirement plans.

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