Longtime fire chief honored

By Vanessa Kahin

vkahin@cnjonline.com

Amongst family, friends and firefighters, Clovis Fire Department Chief Ray Westerman bid adieu during a retirement ceremony Friday afternoon in the same place he was sworn in as chief in October 2004: Clovis City Hall.

Westerman officially leaves his post at 1 p.m. Monday.

Staff photo: Tony Bullocks Retiring Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman, left, accepts a retirement award from Clovis city Mayor David Lansford at Friday’s retirement ceremony at City Hall, while Westerman’s wife, Laurie Westerman, center, takes photos.

Staff photo: Tony Bullocks
Retiring Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman, left, accepts a retirement award from Clovis city Mayor David Lansford at Friday’s retirement ceremony at City Hall, while Westerman’s wife, Laurie Westerman, center, takes photos.

Long before becoming chief, Westerman, who joined the department in January 1975, already had at least one unique idea about how to run the fire department. Run being the operative word.

“He had my group of probationary employees run around (the fire station),” recalled Administrative Battalion Chief Montie Powell. The group of five wore bunker gear as they ran, including firefighter pants, boots, a coat, a helmet and gloves.

They were also breathing with the assistance of self-contained breathing apparatuses — the devices rescue workers use to breathe in dangerous atmospheres.

“It was enough for us to understand about the breathing,” Powell said, “and about how much exertion it takes to carry the gear.”

The exercise happened about 20 years ago, Powell said. Westerman was a lieutenant with the department at the time.

Westerman did not comment on what those employees must have said about him at the time.

“They learned something,” he said with a laugh. Despite the training exercise, Powell described Westerman as both easy to work for and easy to work with.

“He always (had) a vision for what we were doing and where we were headed,” Powell said of Westerman. “He thinks outside the box.

“Definitely, he’ll be missed.”

Providing firefighters with adequate training and expanding the capabilities of the department were cornerstones of Westerman’s 39-year tenure.

Westerman estimated that in the 1970s, the Clovis Fire Department received about 800 calls a year. The department currently receives an estimated 8,000 calls in a year, he said.

When he joined the department, there were only two fire stations in Clovis, Westerman said. There are now six in the city, with an additional two stations at the airport.

Properly training new recruits continued to be a goal for Westerman, as evidenced by the construction of a training facility featuring a two-story burn building and a four-story cold tower. The latter is used to train for a variety of situations, but does not allow for live burns.

The training facility, just north of Fire Station 5 on Brady Street was a goal Westerman worked toward and was nine years in the making. It was completed in 2013.

“I have accomplished the things that I set out to as fire chief,” Westerman said. “It’s time for someone else to establish new goals and objectives.”

City Manager Joe Thomas said the search continues for Westerman’s replacement.

“We’re still receiving applications,” Thomas said of the chief position, which was advertised as open until filled. He said the city has five prospects, with at least one more interviewing next week.

There is no deadline to fill the position, Thomas said.

“It’s more important to make a good decision than a quick decision,” Thomas said. “We’re going to evaluate each candidate (and) ensure we have the best available.