CHAMPION – After a career that began in the 1990s as a junior volunteer firefighter in Lordstown, Champion Fire Chief John Hickey retired on Thursday as Chief and will begin a new chapter in his life as Director of Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency.
Hickey, 49, starts today as the new Director of EMA and brings with him many years of experience and knowledge. He said it was his father, James Hickey, who was a volunteer firefighter for 20 years for Lordstown, who encouraged him to enter the field of firefighting.
“I’ve been in the firefighting business my whole life. All my memories of my dad as a firefighter and being in a fire station is what I wanted too. I became a junior firefighter in January 1988. I have almost 34 years of experience in firefighting ”, Hickey said.
After graduating from Lordstown High School in 1990, Hickey enlisted in the US Air Force and trained as a firefighter.
He served on active duty from 1990 to 1996, then in the Reserve from 1996 to 2002. During this period, he was also a full-time civilian firefighter at Youngstown Air Reserve Station for five years.
“We weren’t out of base like they are now, and there weren’t a lot of calls. So I went to work part-time at DIY on Elm Road in 2000. ” he said.
He said DIY was going to close and a Champion fire captain told him to apply for a job with the Champion fire department. Hickey started as a part-time firefighter at Champion in 2003, then became Chief in 2006, replacing Lew Austin.
He said his first year as a fire chief was “Baptism by fire”, noting that on his third day as chef there had been a fatal fire at a house on Park Avenue, followed by a 2007 large fire at a plastics factory on Kincaid Road.
In December 2019, the fire at Champion Roller Rink was another major event in his career.
“I am proud that the fire department was able to do the maximum with the limited resources we had, such as money and people”, Hickey said.
He said the ministry obtained more than $ 500,000 in grants during his time as chief.
He said it is difficult to get people to work as firefighters with all the departments struggling to retain members. Hickey said that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks there was a waiting list of people who wanted to be firefighters.
Hickey said the departments receive students who complete the fire safety program at the Trumbull Career and Technical Center.
He said the Champion Fire Department receives an average of 10 calls per day.
“The volume of calls since I took office in 2006 until today has increased by 117%. We are the busiest fire department in Trumbull County with one building. Howland and Liberty are busier, but they are out of several buildings ”, he said.
Hickey said he couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with in Champion.
“The firefighters were like family. It’s hard to leave, but I know they will thrive. I feel like I helped move the department forward during my stay here and take them to the next level ”, he said.
Hickey said a new chef has yet to be named.
He said he wished he could have seen a new fire station built while he was chief.
Hickey will replace former EMA director Linda Beil, who retired in October 2020, and will oversee emergencies for the entire county.
“I will cover a much larger area. I was responsible for what happened in Champion. Now I will be in charge of the whole county ”, he said,
Hickey has served on committees that have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic in recent years.
Other fire chiefs, such as Dennis Lewis in Bazetta and Gus Birch in Liberty, are also planning to retire this year.
“You see people come and go over the years. We all hope we have left a mark on the fire department and in the community during our time. I hope I will leave something here at Champion that I will always be known for or that will be sent back to me ”, he said
Hickey said he had always enjoyed being a part of the Rotary Club Champion, which he said was an important part of his success and the support he received from the public.
Hickey and his wife Cindy live in Bristol and have three daughters.
“I feel like I left Champion better than when I took over” he said.