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Fire chief enjoys brotherhood, helping people

May 12, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

HANCOCK -- Greg Yost was 20 years old when he saw one of Hancock's biggest fires.

As Sagles Restaurant, a plumbing shop, a beauty parlor, a lawn mower repair shop and an apartment burned on the corner of Main and Church streets, he helped rip pews out of nearby Hancock Presbyterian Church to save them in case the fire reached the church.

It didn't, but the 1975 fire took the whole corner, Yost said.

"I wanted to help," he said.

So, after the fire, he joined the Hancock Fire Co.

Yost, 55, is in his second year of his second stint as Hancock fire chief. He was first chief around the early 1990s.

"Whenever something goes wrong with anything, it's pretty much the fire department and rescue squad that's called," Yost said.

In addition to helping people, Yost enjoys the brotherhood and friendship of the fire company.

"You can go into any station and talk to people," he said.

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Yost's day job is as a computer programmer for the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, for which he often commutes to Annapolis.

Born and raised in Hancock, Yost "rode the bench" for the baseball and basketball teams at Hancock High before graduating in 1973.

It was during his children's years in middle and high school that Yost said he took a break from being fire chief and got involved with the athletic and band boosters clubs. He also coached in Hancock Little League, and elementary and middle school basketball.

He served as a Town Council member for eight years until he was defeated in a mayoral race in January 2005.

Yost remained active with the fire department, deciding to run for fire chief again in January 2009 because he said he wanted to update some policies and procedures, and to help with training officers.

The company has two new officers this year, whom he is helping to train "to replace me," Yost said.

"I got to work myself out of a job," Yost said.

Hancock Fire Co. has more than 60 members, with 20 to 25 active members, Yost said. The department averages eight to 10 firefighters per call, Yost estimated.

The westernmost fire company in Washington County, its members know that on many calls they will be on their own for at least the first 10 minutes of a fire. That's how long it takes the next closest fire department, in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., to get to Hancock, he said.

"We've got to fend for ourselves until help arrives," he said.

After two sisters died in a February 2009 fire that was determined to be arson, firefighters were asking themselves what they could have done differently, Yost said.

"There was nothing they could have done any different because of the head start the fire had from the accelerants," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Ed Ernst, one of the investigators. Ernst said he told the firefighters that if they had tried to go up to the second floor to get to the girls, they could have gotten seriously hurt or died because the stairs were already burned and could not have withstood their weight.

In addition to healing from that fire, they are dealing with a down economy in a town hurting since Rayloc laid off 260 people in March 2008.

The community has continued to support the fire company's bingo nights, which attract about 65 people, Yost said.

"If it wouldn't be for the bingo, we would have problems," Yost said.

Two of the fire company's biggest fundraising events are in the next few weeks. The Kelly-Miller Circus will be at Widmeyer Park on May 29 and the Hancock Firemen's Carnival is in the park from June 8 to 12.

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