After 27 years as Woodstock’s fire chief, 73-year-old Mike Densen is retiring from the department. Kevin Peters, 56, who has served as an assistant fire chief for 25 years, will take his place.
“Since the chief’s job is sort of a paper-pushing job, I’ll still be pushing papers,” said Densen, who plans to be around for about six months to ease the transition. “But I won’t be making chiefly decisions any more, and I won’t have to go to a million meetings.”
While the chief goes out on all major fire calls as incident commander, Densen’s health has prevented him from participating on recent runs, prompting him to step down. He mused on the changes that he’s seen since 1988, the year the Woodstock Playhouse burned down. “In those days, there wasn’t much demand for paperwork,” he recalled. “You filled out an incident report, and that was the end of it. Now the government gives us new requirements every year, we have a $1.2 million budget, and it’s become a lot more complicated.”
Like the rest of the volunteer crew, the chief doesn’t get paid for fighting fires, but he does get office work pay as an administrative clerk.
Densen will be helping Peters get the hang of filling out reports to insurance companies, updating the constantly changing standard operating procedures, maintaining records needed for the service awards programs, writing up monthly incident reports for the state, specing out the new trucks that are purchased every three years, and much more. “It’s like running a business now,” Densen said.
The plethora of regulations also makes it more difficult to recruit new members, as training requirements increase. “When I started,” he explained, “they had a 39-hour fire class. Now it’s 104 hours, plus 40 hours of non-classroom work — just to be a fireman on a voluntary basis.” However, the camaraderie is still a draw, and a number of youngsters have joined the department in recent years.
“We’d like to get more young guys to take over for us older ones,” said Peters. “Two or three guys under 20 just put in applications. It would be great if we could get a group of 20- to 25-year-olds who are enthused.”
Dues paid up
“Kevin has an opportunity to reach out to the younger membership and work with them on training,” said Donald Allen, one of the Woodstock fire commissioners. “We’re going to miss Michael Densen. He gave us some good years, and he’s driven us through a lot of changes. The new chief has paid his dues to get here.”
Peters, who participated in 180 of the 280 fire calls run by Company One this year, doesn’t expect the firefighting aspect to shift with his new position — only the paperwork. “I think I’m going to do just fine,” he said. His assistant fire chiefs will be Rich Quick and Tom Rivera, both experienced firefighters.
“The board of fire commissioners will be great to work with,” added Peters, who is employed by the Woodstock highway department. “I’ll meet with the board to discuss getting younger members. It does interrupt your evenings, and you have to take classes and do homework, so it’s tough to get recruits. You get up at midnight, and sometimes you want to roll back over — but you don’t. I like to volunteer and help people and do anything I can to support the community.”
Densen said that as he phases out of the department, he’ll be spending more time on his art restoration and framing business. “It seems like the older I get, the more work I end up doing,” he mused, in response to a question about what he expects to do with his new free time. “There’s some carpentry around the house I’ve been wanting to do for years. I want to do some traveling, go someplace warm in the winter. I quit being an artist 15 years ago. I might start doing that again.”