After 27 years of service, Huntington’s Fire Chief, Jan Rader, is stepping down and transitioning to another role with the city. After officially becoming Huntington’s Fire Chief in 2017, Rader gained global recognition for her approach toward overcoming the opioid epidemic. She spoke with David Adkins to discuss her career serving the public.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
David Adkins: With redefining the role of a first responder, you once said it needs to change from cavalry to something else. In what ways has that role been redefined during your tenure?
Jan Rader: Any first responder role is going to evolve over time because the world evolves, and we have to keep up with that. We need more education, when it comes to what addiction really is and how it affects people. We need more education on how we can refer people to services, things of that nature, and we also need education on mindfulness and keeping ourselves healthy mentally. Because people working today in the first responder role, they’re seeing overdoses of their friends, people they went to high school with, maybe family members, so it affects them in a very deep way versus not going on overdose calls.
David Adkins: With the introduction of COMPASS, which is a wellness program for first responders, how do you think that has helped?
Jan Rader: It’s been amazing and I actually got to be a part of that on the ground level. I’ve seen a need for years and I think that we’re showing first responders throughout the country in the world that it’s okay to take care of yourself even though you know you’re kind of like a superhero without the cake. But if we’re not safe, physically and mentally, then how can we help others?
David Adkins: There’s been a lot of collaboration interdepartmentally, with the fire department, the Huntington health department, and quick response teams. That’s a group of people with different fields that are collaborating together. What is the importance of that collaboration going forward?
Jan Rader: What we’re doing is working, we are making a difference, and that started with the leadership of Mayor Williams. He has guided us and shown us how great it can be to collaborate and partner with other agencies. We’re all in this together. It’s going to take all of us working together. And we have to be able to guide people to the programs that they need to get help. No one department, no one organization can do it alone. So we must work together, and we have and we involve the faith community in everything, and that’s amazing as well.
David Adkins: And having that community involvement for responding to the opioid crisis, that gives people the support system they need.
Jan Rader: It’s so needed. It’s so needed. We have people come here to see what we’re doing from all over the country, and even from other countries, to see how it’s working, and they all comment on the collaboration and the partnerships that we have formed.
David Adkins: A lot of people, when they think about our city, they think of some sort of infamy.
Jan Rader: But look at us West Virginians now. We’re working together and we’re making headway in a very difficult situation. We’re the city of solutions.
David Adkins: How does it feel to be the city of solutions, kind of more of a beacon of positivity and innovation?
Jan Rader: It feels good. You know, it doesn’t take a lot of energy to do the right thing, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing the right thing.
David Adkins: Greg Fuller was announced as the new chief. What are your thoughts?
Jan Rader: Greg and I have been friends for years. In fact, he was my chief for 10 years on the fire department. And I was very sad when he decided to retire. He’s a gentleman who has many connections. He has an incredible amount of knowledge when it comes to leadership and dealing with budgets, and he has many connections in the federal government and the state government. He’s just a great guy. He’s a good fit.
David Adkins: You gave your life to public service. What has that been like?
Jan Rader: I feel good about it. I think that I was raised by two very caring parents who taught me that you help those who can’t help themselves. Even if you are not rich yourself, you help others. And that’s how we grew up, and I think we’re all here to help each other, lift each other up. And you know, I think we make a difference when we do that. So I feel good about it. It’s surreal coming to the end of a 27 and a half-year career. It’s a very odd feeling, but it’s time and I love the Huntington Fire Department. I will continue to be their biggest cheerleader, they do amazing things day in day out, sometimes with very little sleep or not the right equipment, but they are my second home. And I’m very grateful for the 27 and a half years I’ve had and I know that they will continue to be superstars in the first responder world.
David Adkins: What are your thoughts on the future of public health in Huntington?
Jan Rader: I think that as long as we keep an open mind, and we collaborate, that we’ll be okay. I think time will tell what we’re going to see in the future.
Note: Jan Rader stepped down as Huntington’s Fire Chief on Friday, February 11, to assume a new role as director of Huntington’s Council on Public Health and Drug Control Policy. Fire Chief Greg Fuller assumed the position Monday, February 14.