The Searcy Fire Department has two new battalion chiefs.

Brad Morris and Lance Oakes were promoted Monday morning and will take the place of Ryland Lauen, who is retiring July 29, and Keith Carlisle, who is retiring today. Also retiring is Capt. Mike Stout on June 27.

In addition to the two new battalion chiefs, Fire Chief Brian Dunavan announced three new captains and four new lieutenants at the promotion ceremony held at the Central Fire Station.

“This is kind of a new thing in a way,” Dunavan said. “We haven’t really had a lot of promotions over the years to this extent.”

Before the promotions and pinnings, he said he wanted to show appreciation for the three firefighters who are retiring. “There is over 100 years of experience in the fire service that we’re about to lose, and the men that we hire will more than likely have no experience at all, so that’s going to be a big obstacle to overcome,” Dunavan said. “We do have a lot of good men here that are going to try to do their best to fill these shoes so I would just like to take this time right now to thank each one of you for the service. We really appreciate it.”

While the department has a promotional system for captains and lieutenants, Dunavan said that becoming battalion chief is “more of an appointed” position.

“We speak to everybody; we get everybody’s opinion about interviewing and talking to guys and we just kind of put people in that we feel will do the best for the department,” he said.

Morris will be the battalion chief for C shift, while Oakes will hold the position for B shift. Both were captains.

“As far as our lieutenants and our captains, we have a testing process and the men that are getting promoted today scored the highest in this process,” Dunavan said.

Promoted to captain were John Falwell (C shift), Cody Larque (B shift) and Casey Howell (A shift). Those promoted to lieutenant included Levi Garrison for C shift, Brandon DeFoure for A shift and Hunter Heep for B shift.

Dunavan said Drake Wilson also knew that he was going to get promoted in the future but he didn’t know about the ceremony. “He is also going to be one our lieutenants,” Dunavan said.

He told those promoted to “just remember your responsibility just increased dramatically. New battalions, you have the lives of these other guys in your hands; the direction of the department is also in your hands. Captains, you’re going to be the ones who set the tone each day so the attitude you come in with is going to determine how well that shift goes that day and you’re the grease that makes the whole thing roll. And lieutenants, your responsibility now, the guys are inside, the things you have to do to make sure guys come out and also training to be that next captain.

“So on your promotions, congratulations and just remember with this promotion comes great responsibility.”

The firefighters who were promoted spoke to The Daily Citizen about their new positions with the department.

Brandon DeFoure

DeFoure, who has been with the department for 6 1/2 years and graduated from Bald Knob High School in 2013, said he knew his promotion to lieutenant was coming.

“I put a lot of effort into studying and stuff for the testing process,” he said. In his new role, he said he’ll “go from riding in the back to driving every shift. I’ll be pumping at structure fires.

“It’s the first step into being an officer with the department. If it’s not me, the truck doesn’t get there. I’m the one pumping the fires, making sure everyone gets in and out safe.”

He said that he remembers “seeing fire trucks in Searcy” when he was a kid, and “once I got to age 20 when I came here, I saw the opportunity and I was like this would be the awesome career, and I went for it and here I am.”

DeFoure also has been with the Judsonia Volunteer Fire Department for five years and also works part time at the Judsonia Police Department.

He said he has to be a lieutenant for three years before being able to test for captain. “So after three years as lieutenant, I plan on testing for captain. That’s my end goal, captain by the time I retire.”

John Falwell

A 1996 graduate of Bald Knob High School, Falwell was a lieutenant for seven years.

“I pipelined right out of high school, worked on a farm between pipeline jobs and always had a little interest in the fire service and a friend of mine that works here, Bryon Jones, he’s like, ‘You ought to try it out,’” Falwell said. “He and I talked. He is a captain at Station 2. He said, ‘I think you will really like it.’ I came over and tried it out and been in love with it ever since.”

As far as his responsibilities now that he’s a captain, Falwell said, “You’re just looking after the safety of your men No. 1.”

Falwell, who also has been a member of the Bald Knob Volunteer Fire Department since 2004, said being promoted “feels really good because you’re in a position to inspire the guys, motivate the men.’

As far as goals, Falwell said, “It would be nice to be a battalion chief.”

Casey Howell

A graduate of Pangburn High School, Howell has been with the department for 15 years.

When he was a kid, he said, being a fireman crossed his mind a few times. Now, Howell also serves on the Heber Springs Fire Department, raises cattle and mows lawns.

“I like training other guys,” Howell said of being promoted to captain. “I like to make sure they need know what needs to be done and what keeps them safe.”

Cody Larque

A 2011 graduate of Searcy High School, Larque has been with the department for eight years.

“It feels good,” he said of his promotion to captain. “I’m looking forward to the opportunities. I will be here at Central Fire Station.”

As a child, Larque said, “I used to play with the fire trucks and try to get my parents to chase fire trucks and all that.” However, as an adult, he said he worked in a factory for a little while while he was going to school. When he came back home, he started working for the fire department.

Asked if he would like to be a chief one day, Larque said “absolutely, that’s the goal.”

Brad Morris

Morris has served with the Searcy Fire Department for 17 years, starting April 4, 2005.

“I have been in the fire service since September of 1996. I started out over in Parkin and Wynne, eastern Arkansas area. Parkin and Earle were volunteer, Wynne was full time. I got hired there in 2002.”

He said he graduated from Parkin in 1996 back when it had a high school, and back he was going to college at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, taking computer science. He said he just couldn’t be behind a desk. He said he has a love for being outside “and the fire department kind of matched that love of being outside and having different challenges.”

He said his favorite thing to do is meet people at community events.

Morris said the promotion to battalion chief “feels good. It was my goal. It is like a family here.”

He said it is fun training new people and he would love to be chief some day.

Hunter Heep

Heep, who graduated from Searcy High School in 2011, has been with the department for eight years. He said about a year after high school he was going to start working toward getting hired by the department and was hired in 2014.

Heep said that he knew his promotion to lieutenant was coming. “It is really exciting and I have been wanting it for a while.”

He also mentioned that one of the things at excites him as a firefighter is “going out and seeing the public and working with kids.

“A couple of times I have been fortunate to go to the high school and not just speak to the kids but to the troubled youth, and I like that because I was a trouble youth – just a teenager, nothing crazy,” Heep said. “It was nice to talk to some and their eyes lit up and they actually realized, ‘Hey, I can do this’ because you don’t have to have money, a background or a college degree, you just come here and get the training and turn into something professional and give back to the community.

“So hopefully those kids come and test [for the department]. They said they would and I really like that. The age for starting out is 18 here but a lot of places it’s 21.

Drake Wilson

Wilson, a 2010 graduate of Searcy High School, said he was hired by the department in 2015. “When I graduated, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do but I had this on the back of my mind.”

“Funny enough, my mom kept a document of like school pictures and school things ... from kindergarten through fourth grade, every year I had a firefighter” costume on,” he said.

During the summer when he started as a firefighter, “we had I believe it was 14 fires or something in a two-week span, and I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy,’” Wilson said, adding that many of the fires were residential and there might have been a couple apartment fires during that span, too. “It was summer. It was July and I was like ‘Wow, this is it.’”

The new lieutenant talked about “crew integrity” and being close to those he works with, “kind of showing them the ropes along the way.”

“This day in age, there are kids who don’t know how to work and don’t know what they want to do when they graduate and there’s a lot of people that don’t want to work period,” he said. “We have to hire a lot of younger guys. It is fun seeing them being eager to learn and them me being able to teach them stuff.”

Lance Oakes

Oakes said he has been with the department for 19 years and seven months.” He graduated from Searcy High School on May 20, 1995.

For as long as he can remember, Oakes said, he has always wanted to be a firefighter. “We lived over on Market Street and when we would go by Station 2, I would stop by the station by Sidney Deener; that’s where I went to elementary school so I would stop in and talk to those guys.”

Oakes said he went to Henderson State University, studying education, and then got married and started working. He said at the time you had to be 21 to get hired as a firefighter in Searcy, so he had to wait.

Oakes considers his promotion to battalion chief to be a big deal. “I always pictured myself being in a captain’s position but as you grow in something, you see opportunities come along and you start striving for it. That’s the way it went for me.”

Always a highlight of his job for Oakes is working with the community, and he mentioned that the Get Down Downtown festival in the fall “has been really good.”

Since he works in the community he grew up in, Oakes said he has a sense of pride about it. “In my interview questions when they hired me, they asked me why do I want to be a Searcy firefighter and I said because I grew up here. My grandparents owned businesses in town. I mean, I just wanted to be here. I had opportunities to go to Little Rock and other places, but here is where I always wanted to be.”

For someone wanting to work in the fire service, Oakes said he would tell them to “get started early, watch their education, do good in school and try to get started in early. I mean, we’re hiring now at 18 years old. Most places you go to work and it’s a job, but we try to view this more as a career. It is a family. When you hire on, they preach ‘family, family, family.’ I mean there are family quarrels sometime. It really is like a family here. We all look after each other. If someone is on vacation, ‘Hey, I’ll take care of your animals for you.’”

Levi Garrison

Garrison, who works as Station 2, joined the department 7 1/2 years ago. He is at fire Station 2. He graduated from McRae High School in 1997.

“Out of high school, I got into factory work locally and I did that for approximately 20 years and decided I needed to make a change or quit griping about what I was doing,” Garrison said. “I always wanted to be a basketball coach or a sports announcer.”

With the fire service, Garrison said, “You get to see it all, the good and the bad.” He mentioned enjoying going to the schools and talking to the kids.

“As lieutenant, I will be driving the truck. It is my job to make sure we get to wherever we’re going safely,” he said. “If were called to an emergency scene, we don’t want to worsen the emergency by being part of the problem and if we can’t get there safely then we become more of a problem we can’t help.”

As far as career goals, Garrison said potentially he would like to be a captain. “We will see what the future holds.”

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