Ken Bradey, a second-generation firefighter and Harrisburg's newest deputy fire chief, recently took on the new role after more than three decades with Charlotte Fire Department's Engine 64.
The 17-year Harrisburg resident replaced James Overcash Jr., who served the department for 40 years in various capacities. Bradey is second in charge of about 60 staff and volunteer firefighters who help run the town's two stations - on Rocky River Road and Morehead Road - that serve 26,000 residents within 32 square miles, answering more than 1,000 calls per year.
The department formed in 1954 as a volunteer unit and became a combination of paid staff and volunteers in 1996. The possibility of the department transitioning to a fully paid staff like Concord's unit is something the department is striving toward, but that change would present a challenge, especially in today's economy.
"The growth of the fire department depends on the growth of the community," said Bradey. "As the community grows, so does fire service. You would always love to have more equipment and more personnel, but those things cost dollars. The volunteers are a good way to help supplement and increase the manpower pool."
Bradey, 50, took the new position partly because it was in the town in which he lives, but more so because it allowed him to continue to learn.
"I always enjoy new challenges," said Bradey. "I'm still learning the nuances of this job. Every day is kind of something new for me. I get to handle things that in Charlotte I didn't get to do. It's a whole new challenge, and I enjoy that."
Bradey has been married to his wife, Gregg, for about 27 years, and they have two children: Patrick, 17, and Hannah, 13. Ken Bradey's father, Roy, was a firefighter for 34 years.
"When I started as a volunteer, I enjoyed the camaraderie, the traditions, the values and just the excitement of going on calls," said Bradey. "For me, it was pretty neat when I came through the academy in Charlotte and my dad pinned my badge on me. That was a pretty special memory in itself, because not everybody gets that."
Chief Bryan Dunn said Bradey was chosen to help meet challenges faced in the fire service.
"We chose Chief Bradey for this position based on his experience and level of professionalism in the fire service," Dunn said. "Ken comes to us with a great reputation in the area and state. We believe that will help to promote local and regional relationships."
Bradey is looking forward to being part of a younger department and creating lasting traditions for future firefighters.
The Charlotte department "was over 100 years old," he said. "Here, they're just starting to sink their roots in.
"When I went to Charlotte, it was already established. That's the fun part of this: They get to establish their own traditions and values. There's no way to describe it until you actually do it.
"I don't think there's another job that can top this one. For me, it's the best job in the world."
While serving in Charlotte, Bradey worked the night the Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Park baseball field burned down in 1985. He also worked the 1982 Baxter-Harriss warehouse fire, a multi-alarm chemical fire on North Tryon Street that spurred the formation of Charlotte's first hazardous materials team.
"You always have notable fires, but the biggest thing is the people you get to work with," said Bradey. "You work with a mix of people from every walk of life and learn a lot about people. It's just an enjoyable job with a lot of self-satisfaction. But not every call is the big call. Sometimes it's the little things."
As an example, during the recent snow and ice storm, the department got a call from a lady who couldn't leave her house to go care for her elderly mother. A few men went to her house and chipped away the ice on her walkway so she could leave.
It's in moments like that, said Bradey, that the true joy of his job is emphasized.
"It's nice to work within your community and feel like you're a part of your community," said Bradey. "You hope you can always give something back. Hopefully the skills that I was taught in Charlotte, I can bring those over and help.
"This is a young fire department and, hopefully, I can help the department go in a positive direction for the next generation of firefighters."