There is value in knowing that you have done something to protect someone else’s life. If a fire occurs in a building and the alarm system is activated, and because of that, people are able to survive a bad situation — there is value in that.
That mentality “lit a fire” under recently appointed Sheridan Fire Department Chief Ben Hammond.
“It is an industry that is tough to be in,” Hammond said. “It takes long hours, whether you are career or volunteer. It takes a toll on your mental and physical health.
“That is what led me to the passion of fire prevention and risk reduction. I just don’t believe that civilians and firefighters have to continue to die in fires. As a fire department, if we can prevent those things from happening, then we have done our job protecting that citizen.”
Hammond replaces Tim Stuckey, who announced his retirement in May. Stuckey served the department for more than 34 years.
“It wasn’t a surprise that I pursued it,” Hammond said. “In all honesty, it was a surprise that it came when it did. When someone has been in the fire service for 35 years, like our previous chief, they don’t typically retire until they know it is time to retire.”
Hammond said it is a lot like other things.
“If I waited till it was perfect to make the decision, it would have never been made,” he said.
“One of the things I am most excited about is working with the members of this department and collectively determining what our vision is and what our mission is to support that vision,” Hammond said. “Along with that, you have to have a strong value base and a team of 30 to 35 people to believe in that vision or mission — then there is nothing that you can’t accomplish.”
Stuckey, who has been working alongside Hammond for nearly a decade, said that one good word to sum up Hammond is “busy.”
“And usually those who are the busiest get the most things done,” Stuckey said. “He’ll be a good chief. He has a lot of knowledge in the area of our service.
“He has a desire to do things right, and he is a very personable person and able to communicate well, and that’s important.”
Stuckey said he looks forward to his retirement, although he is still employed as the county treasurer.
“I’ll just be able to relax a little bit and get things I need to accomplish accomplished,” Stuckey said. “I have been doing this a long time, and at a certain time … it is just time for them to move forward without me.”
Hammond has been a volunteer member of the Sheridan Fire Department for 10 years and has worked as a career firefighter for the city of Little Rock for the past six years.
Hammond has been working in fire protection for 18 years in some capacity, having worked with fire-alarm systems and fire sprinkler systems.
“When I moved to Sheridan, my wife and I bought a house here, and a volunteer responded to a call, and I thought, ‘I need to learn more about what this guy was doing,’” Hammond said.
At the very next meeting, he asked to be a member, and Hammond has been on the fire service ever since.
Hammond was born in Jacksonville and graduated from Cabot High School in 1998. He earned an associates degree in electronics engineering in 2000. Last week, he received a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from Columbia Southern University, headquartered in Orange Beach, Alabama. He also earned an associate degree in fire science from CSU.
“Being a fire-department administrator is always something I considered, so I threw my name into the hat,” Hammond said. “I shared some thoughts and ideas with some members of the department, and the men and women elected me as their new chief.”
Under Stuckey, Hammond served as the captain and fire marshal for the department for the past eight years.
“What sticks out to me is his passion for his job and to educate the people to make them safer,” Stuckey said. “It really shows.”
Sheridan Mayor Joe Wise said he believes Stuckey may have been the longest-running chief for the department, but he has no doubt in Hammond and the job he will do.
“Most importantly to me is that he is respected by his peers. That’s a pretty good gauge of his qualifications,” Wise said of Hammond.
“One of my goals is to maintain a unified, well-trained and passion-oriented membership for this fire department,” Hammond said.
The Sheridan Fire Department currently has about 25 volunteers and five to seven employees during the day who man the station.
“We always want and sometimes need additional people who want to learn this industry and allow us to use them in this community for different purposes,” Hammond said. “We run on fires; we run on motor-vehicle accidents, hazardous-materials incidents and medical emergencies.
“I’m a big supporter of fire prevention and public education. We can use people in that capacity as well.”
Hammond said one of the challenges he faces is recruiting volunteers.
“It is difficult to find people who have the desire, the availability and the want-to to be a volunteer,” Hammond said. “That’s what this department is built on — the people who want to volunteer to serve this community in an emergency-response fashion.
“Maintaining a strong body of individuals is going to be important.”
Hammond said the administrative staff the department has is exceptional and always goes above and beyond to move the department forward. The department has two assistant chiefs, a training officer and a captain over fire prevention.
“Those guys are all volunteers and serve in a volunteer capacity,” he said. “It is incredible the amount of time, effort and dedication that not only the staff but all the members are willing to give to go out and serve this community.”
Hammond lives in Sheridan, about half a mile from the fire station. He said all the volunteers who serve live in the community.
“I think that is where some of the passion comes from,” he said. “You are protecting your community because it could be your neighbor’s house, a family member’s house, or it could even be your house that you are protecting.
“So it means something.”
Hammond said one thing that is plaguing all firefighters right now is the risk of cancer.
“It could be from years and years of possibly breathing smoke, or the carcinogens and contaminates that we wear on our gear, and they get into our skin and pores,” Hammond said. “It is important, not only from a risk-reduction standpoint, that we consider preventing firefighter cancers and that we also educate ourselves and document our exposures so we can prevent those things.”
Hammond said the firefighters are changing the way they wear their gear, and the way the gear is made is also changing.
“It is critical that we do everything we can to prevent fires and reduce risks so that we can protect the citizens and, equally as important, protect ourselves against the dangers we face,” Hammond said.
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.