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story.lead_photo.caption Tony Reaves, the new fire chief for the Ward Volunteer Fire Department, has been a firefighter for 30 years in various capacities. Reaves worked for the Ward Wastewater Plant before replacing Randy Staley, who retired as fire chief. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

Tony Reaves has a love of music and being a firefighter.

Reaves, who was hired as chief for the City of Ward Volunteer Fire Department on Feb. 15, said he thinks music might have held back his career as a firefighter. Reaves was a volunteer firefighter for 30 years.

“Taking the first chief position was one of my life’s goals,” Reaves said. “When you’re younger, you make decisions and later you think, ‘Why did I make that decision? That’s not really what I wanted to do.’

“Being fire chief now has really helped me [make up] for the things I did not do back then. I’m getting to do it now. There were regrets of not doing it back then.”

Reaves, 47, was working as a volunteer with the Cabot Fire Department, and he said he had a chance to work full time for the department.

“At the time, I was playing music. … My playing music at that time just was kind of more important,” he said, “so I never really pushed for being a full-time firefighter.”

Reaves, a 1991 graduate of Cabot High School, learned about music growing up around his grandparents.

“My grandma and grandpa were the biggest push as far as playing music because they loved to dance,” he said. “They would go to these nonalcoholic places, and when I was 10 years old, I started going with them and got interested in playing drums. Low and behold, I started playing at those places.”

Reaves’ main instrument is the drums, which he played for a while with Troy Cook Jr. & The Long Haul Band, as well as other local bands.

“I’ve done turns and traveled around the state,” he said.

Reaves said he’s been learning to play the steel guitar over the years and can also play bass guitar, mandolin and banjo.

“I’ve always been able to pick up an instrument and play it,” he said. “But the one right here (steel guitar) — it’s been a chore. You have to use both hands, both feet and keep your brain focused on what’s going on.

“Drums … it just came naturally to me. The drumming has taken me further than anything.”

Reaves’ drumming has allowed him to open for acts such as The Charlie Daniels Band and The Kentucky Headhunters.

“I’ve played Magic Springs,” he said. “When I was with Troy Cook, we went to Las Vegas.”

Reaves said he only plays sporadically these days.

“I play in the Southern Gospel Jubilee, but it’s like once every two months,” he said. “We play and travel around Arkansas.”

Reaves said he grew up wanting to be a firefighter. His father, Tommy Reaves, is a retired captain from the Cabot Fire Department.

“Growing up around the station with my dad being a fireman got me interested,” Reaves said. “He was a volunteer for a little over 23 years. He worked in utilities at the Cabot Water Department. I kind of got interested in it.

“Just growing up around it, my dad always had something to do with the city of Cabot. He was involved in a lot of things, and the Fire Department was his passion. He kind of brought that to me, as far as a passion.”

Reaves replaced longtime Ward Chief Randy Staley early this year. Staley retired after 35 years, including the past 10 as the full-time fire chief.

Prior to taking the full-time position at Ward, Reaves was a volunteer firefighter with the Ward department. He also worked at the Ward Wastewater Plant for many years, prior to taking over the Fire Department.

“My biggest push, as far as coming in as chief, is to bring the tradition of the fire service back to the Fire Department,” Reaves said. “It was here. We’re just trying to get everybody back into it. Some of the guys come in on their days off and do stuff. They are doing it voluntarily. It’s the camaraderie and tradition that I’m trying bring back to the fire service.

“Chief (Randy) Staley had brought it up to a level, and now I want to keep pushing that.”

Reaves credits his father in that regard as well.

“That is where my pushing for the tradition of the fire service started,” he said. “A lot of times, I think it gets pushed to the side. There’s a whole tradition behind the fire service. As far as my dad, just looking up to him, he’s a hero to me. I hope that I’m doing the same thing for my boys. They got interested in it as well.”

The Ward Fire Department currently has 19 volunteers on its roster.

“This day and time, with volunteers, it’s hard to find volunteers and have a group of guys like we have,” Reaves said. “These guys give their own time to what we’re doing. I think sometimes the community overlooks that.”

Reaves said he can have about 23 or 24 volunteers on the roster.

“We’re all the time reaching out,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty good response after the first of the year. We had some guys who are interested in it.

Having as many volunteers as possible is key to a volunteer fire department, Reaves said.

“They’ve all got jobs,” he said. “Just because you have 16 or 17 guys on the roaster doesn’t mean they are all going to be able to make it. As far as recruitment, I’m all about it.”

After taking the job as chief, Reaves moved his office from the new Ward City Hall to the main fire station, which previously served as city hall.

“I actually moved everything down here,” Reaves said. “When the new mayor (Charles Gastineau) came in, he wanted the new chief to be at the fire station.”

Reaves said the department is doing some remodeling at the station.

“There are a lot of changes, a little bit at a time,” he said. “We tore out a wall where the firetrucks are, where an office used to be. It was the old mayor’s office when this was City Hall. We actually tore that down to have more room to park the truck and have more room for the guys.”

Ward Mayor Charles Gastineau said he had several applications for the fire chief’s position.

“Tony brings a lot of experience into the city,” Gastineau said. “He’s been on the Volunteer Fire Department for years. He was our wastewater expert. He was a natural choice.

“I went out and looked at a lot of applications. I thought that Tony would be the perfect guy to take over for Randy Staley, who had been here for years.”

Gastineau said Reaves is making changes in the department for the better.

“He is modernizing the procedures within the station,” Gastineau said. “He’s doing a great job. I’m really proud of him. I expect great things for the Fire Department.”

The Ward Fire Department has three engines, two rescue trucks and two brush trucks.

“We’re actually in the process of looking for a ladder truck now,” Reaves said.

Reaves said Ward currently has an Insurance Services Office Rating of 3, which he said is “awesome.”

“For us to have an ISO ration of 3 is a big deal to me,” he said.

Reaves said he can recall the first time he ever fought a fire while working as a volunteer for Cabot. It was a trailer fire near the downtown area of Cabot in 1990.

“Back then, the times were different,” he said. “People back then were too stubborn to wear air packs. I went in, and it was a basic knockdown for everybody else, but to me, that was a big experience, the first time going in to fight a fire.”

Reaves said his duties include school inspections and business inspections during the day. If a call comes out during the daytime when volunteers may be limited, Reaves said, he’ll suit up.

“During the day, I’m out there,” he said. “At night, we’ve got a good response with the firefighters. When we have a response, I have to step into the role as chief and actually take command of the scene and not do the firefighting, which is a hard thing for me to do.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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