Interim Conway Fire Chief Brian Moix, 49, first wanted to be a coach, but he said he can’t imagine a better career than being a firefighter.
He has friend and fellow firefighter Buster Cooper to thank for that.
“We were out one night, and he said he was going to take the firefighter test,” Moix said. “I got to thinking [to myself], ‘You know, that’s something you would be proud to do.’”
Moix had been attending the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.
“I went to college thinking I was going to play sports,” he said.
Moix played basketball at St. Joseph School in Conway, but it didn’t work out in college.
“I went to try to walk on and play basketball and, after trying that a couple of places, figured out that wasn’t going to happen.”
“I said, ‘Well, since I can’t play, I’ll coach,’” he said.
Listening to Cooper talk about becoming a firefighter changed Moix’s mind.
Moix, who’d been married only a few months, and Cooper were hired in Conway at the same time in 1989. More than 24 years later, “here we are,” he said, sitting at a table in the chief’s office at the Central Fire Station in downtown Conway.
He immediately loved all aspects of firefighting, Moix said.
“You never knew what you were going to run into. It’s a brotherhood — we call it a second family, and the opportunity to help individuals.”
The first structure fire Moix went to was with Bart Castleberry, the longtime chief who retired in June and paved the way for Moix to become interim chief in July.
Firefighters keep a mental list of the big fires they’ve fought, and Moix said the 1994 fire at AmTran was the first “big one” that comes to mind.
“It was so huge and had mutual aid,” he said.
He said he remembered “the excitement of it being the first one, the adrenaline — this is what we got hired on to do,” Moix said.
On the flip side, he said, was the concern about people being out of work.
He also mentioned the fire that burned First Baptist Church near downtown, the Detco Industries chemical explosion in 2004 that gained national attention, and one of the downtown Conway fires.
Another blaze that stands out, he said, is the 2004 fire at East Oakwood Place, an apartment facility for low-income and disabled senior citizens.
Moix, division chief of training, was working accountability/safety while firefighters were going in and evacuating residents.
“Knock on wood, everybody got out,” he said, rapping his knuckles on the table.
Conway hasn’t had many large-scale fires, he said. Firefighters are involved in many nonfire endeavors.
“We always think fire, but we do way more than that,” he said. “One of the biggest undertakings we had as a fire department was [Hurricane] Katrina,” he said.
Buses of evacuees came to Conway in 2005 and had to be triaged before they were sheltered.
“When they came in on the buses, I was in Rhode Island at a hockey tournament [with my son],” he said.
“You want to be there, but there’s nothing you can do. After that week, I got more than my share.”
He was struck by the human condition: “The amount of people who came in that had pretty much lost everything they had, uprooted from their homes.” It was satisfying, he said, “that you could at least on a small scale give them some relief, some comfort.”
Moix became a training officer in 1996, and his role became more administrative, although he goes on “big incidences,” whether fires or medical runs. “It was sort of the best of both worlds,” he said, hands-on training and administrative responsibilities.
“Being a training officer is sort of like being a coach,” he said. “It’s fulfilling to help make our guys be the best they could be and make our department the best.”
And, he said, the Conway Fire Department is one of the best.
A training facility built in 2000 is “one of the few in the state” that extensive, he said.
Equipment is constantly updated, and it’s a change from when he started in 1989.
When he was hired, the department had 30 firefighters; now it has 107.
“We worked at a station by ourselves,” he said. “You spent the night there by yourself; drove the truck by yourself.
“We’ve come a long way in 25 years.”
Moix praised former chief Castleberry. “He was progressive; he was a mentor,” Moix said.
It’s a mutual admiration society.
“Brian is an excellent choice for interim chief, and Brian had all the necessary talents to have been the fire chief had he so desired,” Castleberry said. “I was with Brian on his first structure fire, and I was with Brian on his first fatality. He was always respectful and professional. He’s a great training officer, and he’s been a true asset to the Conway Fire Department.”
Although Moix said he once aspired to be chief, it’s not the right time in his life. He and his wife, Tricia, bought a business, Scroggins Fire Extinguisher Co., which is keeping him busy outside of work.
Moix said he talked with Conway Mayor Tab Townsell about the interim position.
“I am very thankful and appreciative that he thought enough of me to let me do it,” Moix said.
Personnel isn’t a problem, he said.
“They know what they’re doing — I have all the confidence in the world,” Moix said of the firefighters.
He is getting a budget ready for next year, and a chief won’t be hired until November or December, he guessed.
The difference he sees between being division training chief and chief is “the number of phone calls you get, the number of meetings you go to, the number of special events you have to attend.”
He has to make a lot of decisions.
“I’ve always tried to be fair and consistent,” he said.
Moix said Assistant Chief Mike Winter has made his job easier.
“He’s been a great asset,” Moix said.
That’s a position that appeals to Moix — assistant chief.
He doesn’t regret his decision to pick firefighting over coaching.
“It’s a great job, great career. I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” he said. “It’s been great to me, great to my family. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.