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English steps down

Fire chief retires after 28 years with department

February 22, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Terri English wasn't supposed to stay on the job when she joined the city fire department in 1984.

After all, she was the first woman to be hired as a firefighter, "and there wasn't exactly a warm reception when I joined the department.

"I was hired with three men and was told I wouldn't last on the job," recalled English nearly 28 years later.

Article Photos

RETIRED — Former Steubenville Fire Chief Terri English reviews reports in her office. English retired from the fire department Tuesday after nearly 28 years on the job. -Dave Gossett

But English did last and moved up through the ranks to become fire chief in 2001.

English officially retired from the fire department on Tuesday.

She first took the Civil Service firefighter entrance exam in 1981 and finished 10th.

"The city closed two fire stations in 1982 and was reducing the number of firefighters through attrition. I went on active duty in the Air Force at that time. I came back in 1983 and took the exam again and finished fourth. One candidate was over the age limit so I moved to third," said English.

"The powers that be weren't excited about hiring a woman, but they were afraid if they didn't fill the vacant positions they would lose the jobs. So I was hired as a firefighter. I did everything I needed to do the job. The firefighter job was something I really wanted to do so I learned to roll with the punches. Lt. Tom Burchfield was my mentor, and I learned a lot from him," she explained.

"I had to prove to some of the guys that I could do the job. And I had to prove I could keep them safe if we were all out on a call. I don't remember being nervous. I was excited when I started but I also wanted to make sure I did everything right. There was a lot to learn," said English.

"I didn't grow up wanting to be a firefighter. I was dating a firefighter in the late 1970s and met several of the city firefighters and liked the atmosphere. I guess I have always been an adrenaline junkie and enjoyed being a firefighter going on calls. I was small so I would be sent into all of the small places," remarked English.

"When I joined the department, a teacher would come to Steubenville to teach the fire school. We spent six weeks going to school eight hours a day. My first assignment was at the Pleasant Heights fire house for about eight or nine years. Then I went to the West End station," English related.

"Firefighters are problem solvers. We rescue puppies and kittens, remove bats from a house and battle fires. Every tour in a fire house was different and brought the unexpected," added English.

Since she was named chief in 2001, English has proven quite adept at applying for and securing a variety of grants.

"I obtained about $1.3 million in grants during my tenure as chief. It was my job as chief to provide the men in this department with the equipment to do their jobs in a safe manner. I wish I could do more but we have been pretty successful at getting grants. I wish I had time to do more," declared English.

"As time goes by there are so many more requirements for a fire chief. There are a lot more rules and regulations than there used to be. I have left guidelines for my successor," English said.

City Manager Cathy Davison said the three assistant fire chiefs will divide up the chief's duties for the immediate future.

"I enjoyed the job and the guys for the past 28 years. They are a good group of guys. They do their jobs very well under some very difficult circumstances. And they are always working to improve themselves," English commented.

"I would encourage anyone who is interested in a career as a firefighter to go for it. It is a physically demanding job but if someone is interested in the job they should go for it," stated English.

"I can see continued financial pressure in the city. The next chief should be willing to work with the city administration but also fight to keep all three fire houses open in the future. I don't know what the future will bring for the department. I just hope we always have enough personnel," she said.

She noted she will be working for the Rob Strobel Construction Co. "in an organizational capacity."

"First, I am just going to relax for a bit. I was also a registered nurse for 20 years. I may go back into nursing, maybe in a hospice setting. I am not going to quit work. I still have a lot to do," laughed English.

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