The road to becoming the Scottsburg Fire Department chief was paved with perseverance, persistence, and passion for James Richey. Today, his commitment to his community and helping others is being recognized at the state level with his appointment to the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association Board of Directors.
Richey started in 1999 at the Scottsburg Fire Department after graduating high school. Like many students recently finishing high school, Richey was unsure what he wanted to do after graduation. Then, he started spending some time at the fire department. He had two uncles who worked there, and his grandfather was a city employee for 40 years.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Richey said.
Richey found purpose and a calling while working at the Scottsburg Fire Department.
“It was kind of a calling,” Richey said. “I wanted to help the community.”
To fulfill his dreams, Richey applied for three other full-time paid positions at other nearby city fire departments. At the first department, he did not receive an offer, but he was in the final five applicants in the interview process.
“I didn’t let it discourage me,” Richey said.
At the second firehouse, Richey was given the job out of 40 applicants. Then, he found out he would have to move to work at his new job; the city government passed an ordinance requiring firefighters to live in the fire district. The problem was Richey recently bought a new house in Scott County. He had six months to move to keep the job.
“I couldn’t make that kind of promise,” the Scott County native said. “I turned it down.”
At the final job opportunity, Richey was one of 175 applicants. He passed the physical and agility tests to find out there was no written exam. Typically, firefighters have a written exam component in the interview process. The interviewer asked if Richey had a family or personal connection to someone in the firehouse; he did not. Richey was not offered the job.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Richey said.
Richey went to work at the Walmart Distribution Center and continued to help at the Scottsburg Fire Department as a volunteer. He would wash trucks, help paint, perform inspections, and learn from the fire chief and firefighters about the profession. Eventually, he became indispensable.
“As time progressed, people started calling me,” Richey said. “I was the go-to guy.”
The fire chief at the time, Dick Kern, was close to retirement, but Richey thought there was no way he would become fire chief. Richey said there were many firefighters ahead of him with decades of experience.
“There’s no way I was going to get that job,” Richey said.
At 27 years old, Richey found out he had the support of many other firefighters at Scottsburg Fire Department. He was elected as the chief volunteer by his peers. Then, he was appointed by one of the state’s longest-serving mayors, William H. Graham. Richey became one of the state’s youngest career fire chiefs.
Now, 10 years later, Richey was appointed to the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association Board of Directors, a group of seasoned fire chiefs from around the state. The Board helps propose policies for state lawmakers to consider for the fire safety of citizens and firefighters across Indiana.
“At first, I was like whoa,” Richey said about when asked to join the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association Board of Directors. “This organization has a lot of very seasoned fire chiefs that make it up.”
Through his appointment to the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association Board of Directors, Richey and other members look key fire safety issues concerning the state, including learning about new firefighting technologies and working to stop potentially unsafe products or procedures to help keep citizens and firefighters safe. As a board member, Richey also has a chance to let others know about the community he serves.
“I have a voice to speak on our issues,” Richey said. “I can go straight to the source.”
Richey also meets with other fire chiefs around the state to find out what other communities do. He also has a chance to learn from other fire chiefs to make sure the very best procedures are being followed in Scott County.
“It’s going to be a huge opportunity for our community on a fire department level,” Richey said about the appointment. “You get to hear about all the stuff before it happens. We can prepare for things before they change.”