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Gordonville fire chief says rural department 'a whole new ballgame'
For 27-year-old Randy Morris Jr., joining the Gordonville Fire Department in 2007 was "a whole new ballgame" and took a lot of adjustments and learning. Morris has worked for the Cape Girardeau Fire Department since 2004, where there was an abundance of fire hydrants and a much higher call volume than the rural Gordonville department.
Still, Morris got comfortable fast and when a few firefighters stepped down from the department he filled the void, happy to take a leadership role. Morris was elected chief of the Gordonville crew last year.
Question: Where did you get your initial experience as a firefighter?
Answer: Right out of high school I joined the U.S. Army Reserves in a firefighting unit based out of Granite City, Ill. I did that for a while. We actually served on deployment in 2002 at Fort Campbell, Ky., so I got to work down there on a full-time fire department, which was pretty neat. We did crash and fire rescue with the aircraft and also we covered all the living quarters, all the barracks and stuff that they had there.
Q: Would you say that experience influenced you to join a department when you returned home?
A: My father works over at the Cape [Girardeau] fire department also. He's been on there 20-plus years. I'd always had an interest in it growing up as a little kid and stuff, being around it all the time.
Q: Tell me what it's like being on the two different fire departments.
A: Out here, this was a real new ballgame for me. You take a lot of things for granted being on a city fire department where you have a fire hydrant at every corner, and out here it's totally different. You have to bring your water with you, the tankers and stuff. They do a lot of things different out here because they have to.
One's a paid department, one's a volunteer department. A lot of the guys over at Cape, they love their job, they love what they do and they get paid for what they do. It opened up my eyes out here. ... We have the same people that love doing what they do, they love going to calls and helping out their community, but they do it for nothing. I think that says a little bit more.
We don't have quite as many people on the department out here just because of our call volume. It isn't very much at all compared to the city. They run close to 4,000 calls a year and we're running close to 200 calls a year.
Q: Why did you want to get in the race to be chief in Gordonville?
A: I felt like I could help out the department by being chief. I actually have an associate's degree in fire science that I got shortly after I got out of the military. And I really just enjoy it. My schedule's a little bit more flexible than some of the guys that work 8 to 5 every day. It was kind of a hard transition. I was originally a captain, an EMS captain and then taking a jump to the chief ... there was a lot of new learning experiences about the first 6 months. Well, I could say now I'm still learning.
Q: What's the scariest call that you've had to go on?
A: That's a good question, I've been on so many. I think some of the scariest calls are the calls you get -- and most of the time it doesn't happen -- in the early morning hours and you get a report from dispatch that says they think there's people inside or that they don't know if the people are out of the house. Really, as a firefighter, and I could probably speak for everybody that's a fireman, that really gets our adrenalin pumping. It makes us want to get there and find out if they're OK. That's our highest priority is making sure people are safe.
Q: What sort of plans or goals have you laid out for the department?
A: Actually, when I first took over as chief I did sit down and made some goals for myself and for within the department. One of the big things, a goal I set for this year, is lowering our ISO rating, which takes a lot of work and getting things organized. What [ISO does] is come in and do an inspection of your department from looking at your training files, your response files, the capabilities of your department, as far as your apparatus and they also look at water supply. They look at your communications procedures. Some of the things I have accomplished was when I first took over the job we had several captains on the department and I've kind of condensed those down to where we've had a captain for each station who oversees everything. All the firefighters have to answer to that captain instead of several of them.
605 State Highway Z, Gordonville, MO