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Chief looks back at career, department history
Protecting lives and property
Chief Vernon Rushing stands outside with some of the volunteers and equipment housed at Station No. 1. - photo by Photo provided.

Check out these important safety and fire prevention tips, courtesy of the Richmond Hill Fire Department:

Smoke detectors
There should be a smoke detector in every sleeping area and on every level of the home (try to avoid placing one in the kitchen). Test them monthly, keep them free of dust and replace the batteries at least once a year. The detectors themselves should be replaced after 10 years of service, or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Dryer vents
Clean dryer vents and exhaust ducts regularly to remove dust and lint. Blockages can result in excessive heat and cause clothing in the dryer to catch fire.

Space heaters
Space heaters can pose dangerous fire risks if not used properly. Always keep bedding, clothes, curtains and other combustible objects a safe distance away, and don’t trap electrical cords against walls or under rugs where heat can build up.

Seasonal fire risks
Different seasons present different fire hazards:
- Christmas trees, if placed too near a fireplace, candle or lamp, can easily catch fire during winter. Dry trees are especially flammable, so water them regularly.  
- Burning leaves and vegetation during the summer and fall can lead to wildfires. Always file for a permit with the Georgia Forestry Commission before burning and pay attention to restrictions, burn bans and fire danger ratings.
Safety restraints
Drivers and passengers should always wear a seatbelt when riding in a motor vehicle. If children are present, ensure that car seats and other safety restraints are fastened in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and state regulations.

Cold weather hazards
While Georgia doesn’t experience as much cold-weather risk as its Northern neighbors, it’s still important to take certain precautions during winter:
- Don’t drive with frosted windshields.
- Properly de-ice sidewalks and driveways, and walk carefully.
- Drive slowly when roads are icy.
- Always keep a safety kit with flares, blankets, water, antifreeze and extra oil in your vehicle.

Vernon Rushing has been fighting fires in Bryan County for more than 40 years. 
He joined the Richmond Hill Fire Department as a volunteer in 1968, just a few months after graduating from Richmond Hill High School.
Now, he’s chief of the department.
“I always wanted to be a firefighter and a public servant,” said Rushing, who also served in the Georgia National Guard for 33 years. “When I was in high school, I saw a fire truck and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ It’s just something that once it gets in your blood, it stays there.”
Rushing, 62, has watched Richmond Hill grow from a small rural town to a dynamic community with more than 10,000 residents, and he’s helped the city adapt to its changing safety needs.
“When I first started in this town, we didn’t have one red light and not but a couple hundred people lived here,” he said. “Now the town has grown, commercial business has grown, homes have grown, and the fire department has had to grow right along with it.”
Firefighters who work with Rushing on a daily basis respect his experience and long-standing history with the community.
“It’s good to work for a guy who has so much knowledge and experience about what we do,” said Richmond Hill firefighter David Williams. “It gives me confidence in the decisions we have to make every day.”
The department now has a team of six full-time firefighters, two inspectors, 12 volunteers and more than $2.5 million in equipment dedicated to protecting the people and property of Richmond Hill.
Rushing and his team respond to many different kinds of emergency situations, including fires, medical emergencies, vehicular accidents and public service calls.
“We do a little bit of everything,” said Rushing. “It goes from changing smoke detectors in people’s homes to fixing light bulbs in the trucks to going into burning buildings. You just never know what’s going to happen that day, and everyone needs to know how to handle everything.”
In 2011, the department responded to more than 1,200 calls, 70 percent of which were medical emergencies.
Rushing said that in addition to responding to emergency situations, the department also dedicates time and resources to preventing them.
“Public safety education is one of our most important goals. We see a lot of children in the schools, a lot of adults and seniors, and we try to teach them how to change smoke detectors, clean out their dryer vents — things they need to know to stay safe.”
Rushing enjoys golfing, fishing and being with his family during his free time. He intends to retire eventually, but he doesn’t see it happening anytime soon.
“Maybe in 10 or 15 years I’ll retire, but I reckon it’s more like I’ll be running around to fires in my wheelchair,” he said. “ And that’s just fine with me.”

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