Ted Kupsick’s job duties have changed several times since he first joined the ranks of the Tahlequah Fire Department in the 1980s, but his desire to help the community today as the city’s new assistant fire chief is still as strong as it when he started.
Kupsick is less than two weeks into his role as TFD’s new “No. 2,” a position left vacant when Ray Hammons was promoted from assistant to chief in 2007.
“When I started in the 1980s, I started out as a volunteer,” said Kupsick. “Back then, the volunteers would chase fires. We showed up at a fire and the operators brought the trucks. I worked that for about four years, and then came on as a driver. I wanted to be part of a good thing in the community, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Kupsick was eventually promoted to lieutenant, and then to captain, before his latest promotion.
Times and operations have changed over Kupsick’s career at TFD. Back in the 1980s, shifts were “five-days-on, five-days-off,” he said, with eight-hour shifts.
“And you were the only one here,” said Kupsick. “You got a call and you took the address, paged it out, and responded.”
Eventually, the fire department was manned by two people; today, there are typically four firefighters on duty at all times, with others on call at all hours of the day. They now work 24-hour shifts, with 48 hours off in between.
“[Cherokee County] 911 pages us out, and we have a new fire station out there in Southridge,” said Kupsick. “So we’re split up again, but we’re growing.”
Paid and volunteer firefighters aren’t only sent out to extinguish blazes, but they also assist at crash scenes, on medical calls, and with other responsibilities.
All calls that come through the department can have their own set of difficulties, he said.
“A fire, anytime, for the owner of the residence, is a bad thing,” said Kupsick. “We try to help them as much as possible.”
Many of the runs he’s gone on have stuck with him over the years – the good and the bad alike. Kupsick recalls one unique Christmas-day structure fire in downtown Tahlequah.
“I think I was still a volunteer then,” he said. “We worked all morning trying to get that fire out, and finally we ended up having to move all the furniture outside. The owner had some very valuable comic books, and he said, ‘Whatever you do, I don’t care what you do with the rest of the house, but get that room; I want everything out of that room.’ We did our best to protect everything. There are a lot of times just fighting the fire isn’t all we are going to be faced with.”
Kupsick is now working an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, but recognizes he’s also, in a way, working like he did in his days as a volunteer firefighter, when he could be paged out at all hours.
“I’m on call all the time,” said Kupsick, “but it’s been good. I’ve helped the chief with a lot of his city business, administrative duties and trying to take some of the load off of him.”
But Kupsick said TFD’s captains have been helping out in that manner while the city went without an assistant chief.
“They’ve all really picked up the ball and helped the chief with his workload every day,” said Kupsick.
Hammons joined the fire department about a year after Kupsick joined the crew in the ‘80s, and said he’s proud to have him serving as an assistant chief.
“He’s served his time as a firefighter honorably, and he’s earned his position,” said Hammons. “He’s been one of those guys I can depend on throughout the years to help me and advise me, and I’m excited about being able to work with him.”
Hammons said Kupsick will eventually have an office at the city’s new fire station in Southridge, but will fluctuate between both locations. He also expects another firefighter to eventually be promoted to captain, to replace the slot left by Kupsick.
“I’m very fortunate to have a core group of guys who just really step up and go above and beyond, not for me, but for the well-being of the fire department and the community,” said Hammons. “They don’t get very many pats on the back for it, but I’m very fortunate to have a group of guys like this who have my back the way they do.”
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