Deputy Chief resumes ‘normal’ life
For the last 18 months, "normal" became a relative word for volunteer Deputy Fire Chief Mike Underwood.
During that time he served as head of the Eudora City Fire Department and split his time as a police officer for the city.
If there was a fire, he was called.
If there was an issue with the equipment, he was called.
With the hire of Eudora Fire Chief Randy Ates, Underwood is still spending most of his time at the department but soon life will go back to the way it was before December 2005 when the city fired Chief Spencer McCabe.
"Actually we're moving forward and getting a lot of everyday business taken care of," Underwood said. "Things are going pretty smoothly with the transition."
Underwood helped Ates over the intervening months between his hire and start date by introducing him to people around town and giving Ates a place to stay as he looked for a house.
"It's been a very rewarding experience," Underwood said. The city department will benefit from Ates' experience, Underwood said.
During his time as interim head of the city fire department, Underwood helped fight house fires, led training exercises and maintained the department's stability after two failed attempts to find a fire chief.
Sitting in his office, Underwood looked back at the past 18 months.
"Working all the hours I did during the week, it's taken its toll," Underwood saidDespite the toll and time missed with his family, Underwood praised his co-workers and the volunteers during the city's time without a full-time fire chief.
"I wanted to be able to express my thanks to all the people that were involved in making my time as department fire chief successful because without them this department wouldn't have run," Underwood said.
It took help from two fronts to keep everything in balance, Underwood said.
"I had a very good support staff here as well as home," Underwood said. "If it wasn't for the support I had at home, this definitely wouldn't be possible. (My wife) definitely took that lead role and was very much supportive of me.
"I always appreciate that."
In addition to keeping the department and city volunteers afloat, Underwood's time turned into an educational opportunity.
"The thing that I learned and benefited from the most is learning how a fire department runs," Underwood said.
He also learned more about the difficulties of city's volunteer firefighters. It became a balance of priorities, Underwood said.
"Family comes first; then it's getting things done," Underwood said.
The experience supplemented the knowledge he gained as a police officer, Underwood said.
"I think, if anything, I've gotten to see what it's like on the other side of the door," Underwood said.
Throughout the last year-and-a-half, Eudora Police Chief Greg Dahlem has worked to keep Underwood's police hours flexible.
In the coming months, Underwood will continue to serve as the volunteer deputy fire chief and supplement Ates' full-time presence in the station. Underwood will continue the department's volunteer drive.
He'll also continue to follow his passion ---- which to Underwood is definitely normal.
"It's been a great experience," Underwood said. "I love what I do. I love the emergency services."