EAST CONCORD—After many years with the East Concord Fire Department, new faces will be leading the way as Matthew Willibey and Mark Wagner have stepped down from their positions as chief and first assistant chief, respectively.
Serving 30 years with the ECFD and 13 years as chief, Willibey said it was a hard decision to step back, but he would not be able to put in as much time with the department with his job and he felt it was not fair for a leading officer to not be available as much. But with longtime ECFD member Michael Ahrens stepping into his place, Willibey is confident that he will bring a lot to the department as chief.
“[Ahrens] will bring some freshness of an officer being around as much as he is … he is retired so he’s got more time to deal with drills, training and setting up things like that and that's what I really didn’t have time to do is those kinds of things,” Willibey said. “There are a lot of good people down there and I’ll never sit back and take credit for everything. It was always a team effort because there is a lot that need to get done that people don’t know about.”
When starting with the department, Willibey said he was intrigued by firefighters and what they did for the community since he was a kid. But it was his family who helped convince him to finally join and he has never looked back.
“The one who really got me to join was my brother and at first I wasn’t sure about it, but then I remember back when I was a little kid living next to Tom and Judy Law and [Tom] was a Springville fireman … I would run to the front window and I would watch him race out to the calls no matter what they were and I said man that was pretty neat,” Willibey said.
Throughout his time as chief with the ECFD, Willibey has had a lot of memorable moments that he will always remember, but one moment where the entire department stepped up to build a treehouse for a community member in need showed how much the department and the community care for each other.
“Building a treehouse for a little girl whose father had brain cancer … I was asked to do it because people knew I was a carpenter and what I did is I called for a number of our members to help and we went a built this treehouse in one day,” Willibey said. “It was the teamwork and family sense and the satisfaction that we were helping somebody and that was pretty cool.”
Wagner has served with the ECFD for 20 years, with 10 of those years as first assistant chief, and like Willibey, feels it is not fair to the department to be first assistant chief when he is not able to put in as much time as he would like and is confident in his replacement Keith Ploetz and everyone in the department.
“The assistant chief job is pretty demanding as far as making sure you are at calls … it's been 10 years so I thought it was time. Hopefully some of these younger guys will start moving up and changing things so things don’t get stagnant,” Wagner said. “[Ploetz] has seen a lot and been around a lot and it’s nice to have him moving up and taking that position. It’s a good move for him and the fire company.”
Growing up, Wagner said he always wanted to join a fire department, but didn’t have that opportunity when he lived in the city. But after moving to the East Concord area, he was given the chance to join the fire department and appreciates all the great people he has met along the way.
“When I was younger, I grew up in the city and when my wife and I bought our first house in the city, we figured someday we wanted to join a fire company, but that wasn’t an option in the city,” Wagner said. “When we moved out here in April, by July, both my wife and I joined the fire department because it was a great opportunity to meet your neighbors, meet people and be part of a community.”
Looking back at his time with the department, Wagner said he will have a lot of memories of his time as first assistant chief, but setting up the East Concord Explorers Post 20, which trains young adults from ages 14-18 to become firefighters and EMTs, is something he will always be proud of, and is happy to see the impact it has had on the ECFD.
“That’s probably one of my proudest moments working with those kids and having them move up and watching them become officers,” Wagner said. “I’m proud of what these new youth are bringing to our organization.”
But most of all, Wagner said the people he has worked with over the years and how they have impacted his life will always be something he remembers during his time as first assistant chief.
“We have met so many nice people … the fire hall is a big family and you become that close with everybody,” Wagner said. “It’s a great feeling to work with everybody there. They are a great bunch of people and it’s been a pleasure working being their assistant chief for 10 years … it’s been great and they are all family.”
While both Willibey and Wagner have stepped down from their officer positions, both will still be staying with the department in smaller roles, continuing to make more memories and impacting their community.