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Gift realizes dream by becoming Funkstown fire chief

January 02, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

FUNKSTOWN - Ever since Jon Gift played with his first toy fire engine as a child, he dreamed of being a fireman. And in those dreams he always went on to become a fire chief.

Gift, 34, realized his dreams in December when he was elected to the top post at the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co.

He replaces venerable firefighter W. Kyd Dieterich, who stepped down because of time constraints.

"I have always been interested in firefighting - for the same reason everyone is; it's the flashing lights, the badge, being able drive an engine in traffic," said Gift, who at 17 joined Hagerstown's Independent Junior Fire Engine Co.

More humanitarian concerns developed afterward, he said.

Being a member of fire department provides the opportunity to help the community and those in distress, and that feels good, he said.

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Gift graduated from South Hagerstown High School in 1984 and received a bachelor's of science degree in fire and safety engineering from Eastern Kentucky University in 1988. He is also a certified emergency medical technician.

A volunteer with the Funkstown Fire Department since 1984, Gift said he learned that while he would always want to fight fires, he felt a different career in the area of fire protection would provide a better salary and opportunity to advance.

In 1988, Gift took a position with Crum and Forster Insurance Co. of Towson, Md., as a fire and safety specialist. His job is to evaluate businesses' fire safety measures and recommend ways companies can reduce their risk of accidents and losses.

Gift relocated several times with his position at Crum and Forester, each time finding a local fire department with which he could volunteer.

He returned to Washington County in 1994 and married Richele, 32, two years later. They have a daughter, Samantha, who is 2 years old.

"I'm lucky. My family is very supportive of my commitment to the fire department," said Gift.

The firefighter was appointed lieutenant at Funkstown in 1996 and elected assistant fire chief in 1998.

He will be sworn in as Funkstown's new chief today, but members should not expect to see a lot of drastic changes, he said.

"The groundwork has been laid. I'm just taking the next step," said Gift.

Funkstown's new fire chief said he has great respect for the outgoing Chief Dieterich.

"It will be a privilege and a challenge to fill his shoes," he said.

Dieterich, who plans to continue to volunteer with the company as much as he can, said he has no regrets about leaving.

"It's time to change hats," he said. "I believe in giving new people the opportunity."

"He's very capable," Dieterich said of Gift.

Gift said Funkstown is fortunate to have many capable officers and members, enabling him to delegate some duties so that he doesn't become overwhelmed by the responsibility.

The department is in the process of receiving bids now for a new $300,000 rescue squad truck. Funkstown currently has three pumpers, one rescue squad truck, a four-wheel drive brush engine and two utility vehicles for the duty officer and fire chief.

Funkstown's Fire Department goes on about 1,000 calls a year and its coverage area includes portions of Interstate 70 and various residential, commercial and light industrial areas.

Taking charge of one of Washington County's busiest fire departments is going to be a formidable task, but one that he will relish, said Gift.

"It's a very demanding job. But for me, it's the brass ring," he said.

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