Ark. assistant fire chief, 80, retires after 52 years of service

Paris Fire Department Assistant Chief Harold "Pee Wee" Sehluterman if the longest-serving firefighter in the department's history


Alex Gladden
Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.

PARIS, Ark. — An 80-year-old Paris firefighter has finally retired after 52 years, making him the longest-serving firefighter ever in the department.

Harold "Pee Wee" Sehluterman, served as captain of the part-time department from 1995 to 2004. He was the assistant chief from 2004 until he retired Dec. 31, 2020.

"You've got to be and need to be dedicated to be a fireman," said Sehluterman, who officially served 52 years and five months.

"He probably knows more about fighting fires than the rest of us know," Fire Department Chief John Paul Wells said.

Wells described Sehluterman as very thorough in his position, staying until he was sure it was clear, saying he dug through rubble to ensure all the flames were out, no matter how small.

"Pee Wee would stay until the bitter end," Wells said.

Sehluterman said he always liked helping people and that's why he kept being a firefighter for so long.

"It just kind of became natural you might say being a fireman," said Sehluterman. "I've helped people all my life."

He was present for the three major fires the town experienced within three weeks of each other in the early 1970s. The fires hit the Paris Manufacturing Company, the Paris Grade School and the Paris High School cafeteria.

The most devastating fire Sehluterman was a part of was a house fire that killed three children.

In the earlier years of his career, he said the town experienced more fires than it does now and in his 52 years, no firefighters were seriously injured.

The job kept him on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Being a part-time department, the firefighters don't do shifts, they go to a fire when they're called.

For Sehluterman's wife Alice, that was stressful, especially when calls came at night.

"You laid there and worried was everybody going to be all right," Alice Sehluterman said.

Pee Wee Sehluterman was someone that Wells said he could always depend upon. When Wells was out sick for several months, he left Sehluterman in charge.

"I didn't worry about anything because Pee Wee was there," Wells said.

Among his fellow firefighters, Sehluterman was well-liked and respected, Wells said.

"When Pee Wee barked out an order to somebody, there wasn't any question. You was going to go do it," Wells said.

Pee Wee Sehluterman was instrumental in keeping response times to fires low. The average time it took the department to respond to a fire was three to five minutes.

"It's been rewarding over the years," Pee Wee Sehluterman said.

Rick Eckelhoff, a former captain is replacing Sehluterman as assistant chief, and Racine Nehus is replacing Eckelhoff as captain.

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(c)2021 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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