Chris Snyder has had a front-row seat for nearly half of the Prairie Township Fire Department's 75-year history.
After 35 years with the department, including the last six as chief, Snyder, 62, stepped down earlier this month.
His replacement, former assistant chief Robert Allen Scott, was sworn in during a ceremony Oct. 23, the same day the department hosted a reception at Station 241, 123 Inah Ave., to recognize and celebrate Snyder's service to the township.
"I'm extremely grateful for the people I've worked with over the years. I'm most grateful for the board of trustees and the administrators I've worked with who gave me the trust and freedom to run that department as a fire chief. I just can't say enough good things about that between the administration and the firefighters I've worked with over the years," Snyder said.
Snyder has taken over as chief of the Jefferson Township Fire Department in neighboring Madison County, where he began his career in 1974 as a volunteer in the junior fire program while still in high school. The department covers Jefferson and Fairfield townships, including the village of West Jefferson.
"I really love my job and what I do. A lot of people look forward to retirement, but right now, it just didn't sound appealing to me. I had a great opportunity to be able to come back and serve where I started so many years ago," said Snyder, who also served as a Madison Township trustee from 1988 to 2001. "It's been my home for my entire life so I'm really excited about it."
A fire in an old freezer in the basement of his childhood residence inspired him to become a firefighter, he said.
His career has "been one of the greatest decisions of my life," Snyder said. "It was like 2 o'clock in the morning and the house was filled with smoke. Seeing those guys pull up in fire trucks -- that's back when they were still all volunteer -- it always stuck with me."
Snyder was hired by Prairie Township in 1985, part of its first crew of full-time firefighters that would provide 24/7 coverage. It was the beginning of what is now considered a typical firefighter shift, 24 hours on and 48 hours off.
He was on staff when the department purchased its first computer, built Station 241 and, most recently, helped pass a 3.61-mill permanent levy in 2018 to fund department operations for years to come.
"My dad actually hired him on the fire department," said trustee chairman Doug Stormont, whose father, Robert Stormont, served as Prairie Township's fire chief for 11 years until 1991.
"He's done an excellent job and was instrumental in setting up the department financially -- he's always thinking ahead," Stormont said. "He decided he wanted to go back to his roots, but he's going to be missed. Chief Snyder is the type of guy that got along with everybody and he really had his heart in Prairie Township. Whatever he did, he was doing for the benefit of the township."
Snyder said among his proudest accomplishments are establishing a long-range capital-improvement plan and his work behind the scenes to set the department up for success for "many years to come."
"Being able to take the department and establish long-range funding plans that secure the future for everybody who works there and knowing that I'm leaving the department in good financial shape," Snyder said. "(Being chief) takes your career in a different direction from riding in fire trucks. As chief, I looked at the department as me being put in the position to manage a $6.5 million budget with over 60 employees."
As for advice for his successor, Snyder said he doesn't need to offer any.
"With Chief Allen Scott working side by side with me, he knows the principles I've operated under and now I think it's a great opportunity for him to take the department and use the things I've been able to provide and keep moving forward. I look forward to seeing him take over the job in his own way."
Scott, 52, began his career as a volunteer firefighter in the southern Ohio town of Brilliant, in Jefferson County, in 1982. He has spent the last three-plus years as assistant chief under Snyder's leadership.
Snyder said he plans to return next summer for the 71st annual firefighters fish fry.
"I've always known where I was going to be the last Friday and Saturday in June every year, without question," Snyder said. "Will I be at the fish fry? I'm going to say absolutely, yes. A table is set up for retirees and I plan on assuming one of those seats in 2020."