Jeff Wilson, chief of the BST&G Fire Department since 2011, retired Jan. 31, leaving behind a department that grew by leaps and bounds under his guidance.
"They say that if you can do something you love and find a way to get paid for it," Wilson said, "you will never work a day in your life. I was blessed that this job found me.
"It has been my honor to serve this community the past 30 years and it has been a privilege to work with great people to grow this fire department, from a training ground for bigger departments to our own full-time staff. Thank you for the opportunity."
Wilson has battled glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, for a year and has had two surgeries, said his wife, Marla. His retirement is health-related, she said; Wilson's mobility is limited and he uses a walker and wheelchair.
"It was time to make that decision, even though he really didn't want to," Marla Wilson said.
Doctors believe all of the tumor was removed, she said.
Her husband will continue chemotherapy for three months, after which physicians will evaluate his condition, she said.
The BST&G Fire Board was scheduled to hold a meeting Feb. 1 to discuss the selection of a new chief.
A 5K-run fundraiser in Wilson's honor will be held at 10 a.m. May 5, starting at the the Big Walnut Grill on state Route 3 in Sunbury.
Marla Wilson said the event will help the family with medical expenses and promote awareness of glioblastoma. May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month.
BST&G Deputy Chief Kevin Kline said Wilson joined the department in 1987 and has "lived and breathed the fire department. He was the leader of this family here."
After being named lieutenant deputy chief, Wilson became BST&G's first full-time staffer when he was promoted to assistant chief in January 2011, Kline said. Wilson became the department's first full-time chief eight months later.
"Under seven years of his leadership," Kline said, Wilson "took the department from a volunteer station to ... a full-time department with three full-time firefighters and one part-time firefighter per shift."
The department has 11 full-time and 14 part-time staffers.
Many times, Kline said, Wilson would miss family birthdays, anniversaries, get-togethers and holidays to answer calls and fire runs in the department's service area of Sunbury, Galena and Berkshire and Trenton townships.
A fairly recent addition to the BST&G service area is the Tanger Outlets mall, which opened in 2016 near Interstate 71 and U.S. Route 36.
Kline said the department completes annual inspections of the mall's 100 businesses, with each inspection taking up to 30 minutes on average. The department had been inspecting about 350 businesses a year before the mall opened; the change required no additional personnel.
Kline said when department members were required to take leadership classes, Wilson took them, too.
"He figured if they had to do it, he should do it as well," Kline said. "He did a lot of the extracurricular stuff because he thought it was part of the job. The fire department was everything for him."
In BST&G's history as a volunteer department, Monday evenings were set aside for training, maintenance and equipment checks. Wilson's children, Krysti and Danny, when they were younger often accompanied their father to the station for the Monday sessions.
"His two kids grew up in the volunteer firehouse," Kline said.
Wilson also has been active in first-responder issues around the county, Kline said. Wilson helped start the county's hazardous-material response plan, sat on the Delaware County 911 board, and is past treasurer and president of the Delaware County Fire Chiefs Association.
Delaware County 911 Director Patrick Brandt said Wilson "worked a lot on public safety and is just a great guy" who was involved with the overall community "and was there to support everybody."
Brandt is a part-time firefighter in Harlem Township and has known Wilson for many years, he said.
He said Wilson was active in supporting Ohio House Bill 277, which passed in 2016. The legislation allows collection of a 911 levy only in the political subdivisions served by that 911 system.
The legislation prevented double taxation, Brandt said, in cities along the Franklin-Delaware county line that have their own 911 systems.
It also removed an incentive for those potentially affected to vote against Delaware County's 911 levy. The Delaware County Prosecutor's Office had determined that a countywide tax required all county households to vote. State Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) was HB 277's primary sponsor.
The May 5 5K run is being organized by Dayna Stelzer, wife of BST&G Lt. Kyle Stelzer. Registration is $25 for individuals, $50 for families.
For more information or to register, email drstelzer23@ gmail.com or call Dayna Stelzer at 614-746-2702.