Conway Fire Department Chief Bart Castleberry said there is nothing he will not miss about his job when he retires next month.
"I’m going to miss it all," Castleberry said. "But that’s okay. I’m leaving (the department) in good hands. It’s going to be okay."
Castleberry announced his retirement as chief of the Conway Fire Department in a June 24 letter to Mayor Tab Townsell.
"After 33 years of having the privilege of working for the City of Conway and serving the citizens of this town, I have decided to retire effective July 12, 2013," Castleberry wrote. "I want to express my appreciation to you, the city council and the people of Conway for allowing me to have a career that has meant so much to me and my family."
Castleberry said he still loves coming to work everyday and has enjoyed his career at the Conway Fire Department, and his time as chief, a position he’s held for 20 years, but said it was time for a change.
"It’s just time to let some younger folks with brighter minds and brighter ideas step up," he said. "We have those people here at the fire department."
Conway Chief of Staff Jack Bell said Castleberry has done an outstanding job for the city of Conway, and has dedicated his life to the Conway Fire Department.
"He’s been with us for 33 years," Bell said. "He’s talked about retirement off and on over the years, and I guess he just thought this was the right time for him."
Bell said Castleberry had not given a definite answer until his retirement letter June 24, although Bell said he suspected Castleberry may have been contemplating the decision.
An interim chief will be appointed when Castleberry retires, which will give the city time to look for a permanent replacement, Bell said.
"I don’t know who (the interim chief) will be at this point," Bell said. "That will be the mayor’s call."
A phone call to Mayor Townsell on Wednesday morning by the Log Cabin Democrat was not immediately returned.
Bell said he expected Townsell would want to conduct a national search for Castleberry’s replacement. Candidates from within the Conway Fire Department will also be considered, according to Bell.
Bell said it was too early to speculate on how long the search would take.
"It will be long enough to find a replacement, but it won’t drag out," he said.
Castleberry said he would not give input on who the next chief would be, although he said he had the "utmost confidence" in the Conway Fire Department and its people. Castleberry also said he expected Townsell to conduct a national search, but hoped the position went to someone from within the fire department.
"That decision is with the mayor," Castleberry said. "He knows we have gifted, talented and knowledgable people here."
Castleberry said the next chief will face challenges that are seen across the country as fire departments are responsible for more medical responses, and fewer fire responses.
"That trend will continue," Castleberry said. "The future will depend on paramedic engine companies, and offering paramedics on engines."
Castleberry said a movement toward more specialized training and responses for the fire department, including the growth of the bomb squad, will also be issues his replacement will encounter.
"Firefighting will continue to be what you do, but not what you spend most of your time doing," Castleberry said. "There’s also a change in technology. Even on fire trucks today, the technology has changed.
"It’s evolving quickly, and the next leaders have to evolve with that."
Castleberry said his first day away from the department will be difficult, but he’s confident in the people he’s leaving.
Castleberry confirmed he is accepting the position of director of permitting and code enforcement, and will start the position July 22.
"I’m excited," Castleberry said. "It’s a great bunch of people over there. There will be some changes, but I’m real excited about it.
"It eases the pain of leaving something that I love so much, and it’s a new challenge."
Castleberry said he would most miss the camaraderie between the firefighters.
"Even though as chief, you have to separate yourself, the firefighters are family," he said. "They’re very loyal."
Castleberry said he would, of course, also miss responding to fires and storms.
"It’s just what I’ve done my whole life," he said. "I have really, thoroughly enjoyed it. There have been bad days, and tough choices, but I have really been blessed."
A retirement party for Castleberry will be held at New Life Church, located at 633 S. Country Club Road, at 6 p.m. on July 8. The event is open to the public.
Castleberry said he appreciated New Life Church for allowing the event to be held on its campus, and said he hoped the public, who he has served as chief, will come be a part of the celebration.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)