Archive for Friday, October 8, 1999

LONGTIME TOWNSHIP FIRE CHIEF STEPPING DOWN

October 8, 1999

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Louie McElhaney will remain with the Wakarusa Township Fire Department through April, but as a firefighter instead of chief.

The longtime chief of the Wakarusa Township Fire Department said it's time to pass his command helmet to someone else.

"It's long enough," said Louie McElhaney, chief of the department for 23 years.

He will step down as chief Nov. 1.

McElhaney, who moved to Lawrence in 1953 from Ozark, Ark., worked for the Lawrence Fire Department for 10 years before taking the township post in 1976.

He said one of the best parts of the job has been helping people.

"That kinda flows with it," he said.

But being chief also has had its challenges.

"I think one of the toughest parts is getting a call at 2 or 3 in the morning and having to go out, especially in the winter, when the roads are bad," he said. "When you get the call, you have to go. You can't have an excuse that you can't."

McElhaney said he couldn't cite particularly bad fires or accidents that stood out in his memory over the years, but he said he never got used to seeing people hurt.

"It's one thing if they're unconscious. " I can deal with that," he said. "But when they're alive and hurt and conscious, that bothers me."

McElhaney said staying busy helps him deal with the pressure.

"You just have to stay as busy as you can and try not to think about it," he said.

McElhaney also said he was glad fire and medical departments in this area -- unlike in some other areas -- work well together.

"Everybody has a good working relationship," he said. "I really don't know how bad that could be" if they didn't. "I think we're very fortunate that they do all get along and have a good relationship."

Wakarusa Township has three full-time firefighters -- the chief and two others -- and 12 volunteers.

Its territory is a "horseshoe" around the south, east and west of the city of Lawrence, McElhaney said.

In addition to being fire chief, McElhaney served as a Douglas County commissioner from 1989 to 1997.

He will remain employed as a full-time firefighter through April 15, when he plans to retire. Rod Brown, a longtime firefighter in Lawrence, will replace McElhaney as chief Nov. 1.

McElhaney and his wife, Betty, have four children and eight grandchildren.

-- Michael Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is mdekker@ljworld.com.

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