Pa. fire chief retires after 42-year career

Kingston-Forty Fort Fire Deputy Fire Chief Jim Wills said although he was always fascinated by the fire service, he never intended to make it his career

By Bob Kalinowski
The Citizens' Voice

KINGSTON, Pa. — When he was just 2 years old, Jim Wills became fascinated with fire fighting when his father took him to watch crews battle a blaze in Jenkins Township.

His mother wasn’t so happy about having to send the boy’s smoky, soot-covered clothes to the dry cleaner. But the experience sparked a lifelong passion for Wills that eventually led to a career in fire fighting.

That 42-year career ends today when Wills puts in his final shift for the Kingston-Forty Fort Fire Department.

“Everything has to end. I would like to end on my own terms,” Wills, 68, said Thursday at fire headquarters on the eve of retirement. “I know I could still do the job, but I know I can’t do what I did 10 years ago.”

Wills retires today as one of the department’s two deputy chiefs, the top positions under Fire Chief Frank Guido, who was appointed in 2007.

As far as Guido is concerned, Wills should have been hired as the chief nine years ago, but Wills chose not to apply for the spot.

At the time, Wills was Guido’s boss. But above all else, they were like brothers.

Guido’s voice cracked and his eyes teared up at Tuesday’s council meeting when he announced Wills’ retirement.

On Thursday, they shared some laughs and joked with each other — off-the-record firehouse talk.

“We fought a lot of fire together,” Guido recalled. “He’s a great firefighter. He’s a great friend.”

While Wills was always fascinated with the fire service, he never intended on making it a career. He became a volunteer fireman in Avoca while attending college to become a history teacher.

Following graduation, Wills said he worked as a substitute teacher and sent out dozens of applications, but couldn’t land a job. He worked several odd jobs for a few years before he took the test to become a career firefighter for Kingston.

After seven years as a volunteer, Wills was hired full-time by Kingston in June 1975. Wills said he could have retired 12 years ago, but he liked the work and his fellow firefighters.

“I know we make a difference. That’s what I’ll miss,” Wills said.

Wills said he’ll likely continue to be a volunteer firefighter on a part-time basis, but joked that he’d be off duty on nights, weekends and holidays.

Wills said he’s looking forward to more family time and has four trips already planned for the year.

“I don’t know how much time I have left,” Wills said. “My dad died at age 68.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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