New chief in town

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There are few people who can make a career out of helping those with the most pressing needs. Lewis Young is one of them.
R. Lewis Young, or “Woog” to his friends, grew up in Peculiar, graduating from Ray-Pec in 1989. At the age of sixteen he started his firefighting career as a junior firefighter, part of a program offered to area teens as part of the West Peculiar Fire District, where he is now the chief.
“I can remember some of my earliest childhood memories of wanting to be a firefighter,” he said. “It’s always been a childhood dream and now I’ve lived it all the way to being a fire chief.”
Peculiar has changed quite a bit since Young first moved here, though, as the town of 400 has ballooned to nearly twelve times that amount with no signs of stopping—and he has witnessed this growth firsthand. He is proud to call this area his home and his wife, Cindy, and son, Dylan, along with several other members of his family, love living here too.
As for working in emergency services, Young has committed to it his entire working life.
“I would say it’s been one of the most rewarding careers I could have ever chosen,” the chief said. And the rewarding outcome is driven by his passion for the work. “If I didn’t have to have money I’d [still] do this job,” he continued.
After graduating high school, Young went to paramedic school, worked out of ambulances in Harrisonville, got hired as a full-time paramedic in Plattsburg, spent three years working EMS in rural land north of the river, and finally returned to Peculiar in 1996. He’s been all around Kansas City and seen more than most could handle.
“They call it a ‘mental shield,’” said Young, referring to the mindset needed to approach the scenes he witnesses as part of the job. “It’s not something that everybody can do.”
Not only does the job require a resilient spirit, but it also calls for a student’s approach. Due to ever-changing technology and the complications of the growing culture, emergency services professions have to be trained daily to stay on top of the situations they find themselves in.
Young remembered the technology (or lack thereof) used as part of the job when he first started his career.
While he was on one of his first calls at his job in Plattsburg, the dispatcher told him to go to the Lathrop Bridge and turn right. “I didn’t even know where the Lathrop Bridge was,” Young said.
Now each emergency vehicle is equipped with its own GPS navigation and laptop computer in order to help rescue teams get to the site more efficiently.
“I remember there was one computer in the fire department, and we used to have to take it up to get it maintenanced by the computer specialist in Westport,” Young recounted. He spoke of how they would have to pack it up with Styrofoam in a box before the specialist would take it apart, clean it, and put it back together—a now-antiquated process.
“It’s a constant challenge. You’re constantly in school, you never stop learning in this job,” he said.
Today Young is learning from the top, as he presides over the district where he got his start.
A typical day for the chief starts with morning administration, lunch right in town to rub shoulders with the folks, and hands-on training and other activities in the afternoon. Though he’s always on call and never officially “off the job,” he always makes time to see the people of the community. When asked if eating and talking with the people is important, he responds, “Absolutely.”
“I meet with people of all ages, from babies to people one hundred years old,” he continued.
And now that he has been back in Peculiar for seventeen years, he is the longest tenured firefighter in the district; however, one of the great distinctives of the West Peculiar Fire District is that many of their employees have been around for a while.
“The captains have all been here at least over twelve years,” Young said. “We have a lot of tenure…which is a rarity because a lot of fire departments have rapid turnover.”
With all of that experience, the department runs smoothly and keeps the community safe.
Chief Young thoroughly enjoys his job and plans on staying in his current role until retirement.
“I see the growth of the district adding valuable services to the citizens,” he said.
The chief looks to reevaluating what the patrons want out of the fire department. “Even though this is ‘West Peculiar,’ it belongs to the citizens,” said Young.
As the community grows and the area develops, it is ideal to have an experienced, invested leader for one of the most important services of a city. Lewis Young fills that position well, and he is committed to seeing it through by serving the people and doing what he can to make Peculiar an even better place to live.

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