For Bill Pater, Derby Fire Department’s deputy chief, one thing has always stuck out about his chosen career: the thrill of not knowing what’s coming next.
“A lot of what I love is just that challenge of not knowing what I’ll be doing,” Pater said. “That was always exciting for me. Whether it’s a medical or sick call, or a heart attack, or a structure fire, or a water rescue – no matter what it was, it was always something different. I’ve always enjoyed that.”
There is some certainty coming soon for Pater: retirement. His last day working for Derby Fire and Rescue is September 30. That date will mark the end of a firefighting career that began over three decades ago.
Pater started firefighting in November of 1987 as a volunteer in Derby. His love for the job quickly took off from there.
“I got hooked in my early 20s, and just decided that this was what I wanted to do,” Pater said. “I came on, and then just kind of fell in love with the job, and my career just kind of progressed from that point.”
He was hired by the Sedgwick County Fire Department in 1990, where he worked for 15 years.
“When I started [with the county] I thought, ‘This is what I want to do the rest of my life,’” Pater said.
Pater stayed on as a volunteer in Derby during those years in Sedgwick County. It was in 2005, when the Derby Fire Department became a full-time force, that he was hired on in Derby as a captain. He became deputy fire chief three years later, and that’s been his position ever since.
There are some calls that stick out in his mind – battling a large strip mall fire in Derby in freezing cold weather, responding to the DeBruce grain elevator explosion, digging through the wreckage following the Andover and Haysville tornados.
“There were quite a few big calls that had a lot of impact on me over the years,” Pater said.
During each of those calls, he was able to use his training and expertise to handle each situation as best he could.
“I was glad to be there, because it allowed us to use the skills we had trained for,” Pater said. “It feels good to go into an emergency situation knowing you can perform and help somebody out.”
Pater will still be helping out the fire department once he retires, just not nearly as frequently. He’s going to stay on as a volunteer firefighter.
“I’m going to keep my gear,” Pater said. “If they have a big alarm that drops and they get short on staffing, then I’ll come back in and help out.”
Pater, who is 54 years old, thought he was still a few years out from retiring from firefighting. But an opportunity came up at the El Paso Cemetery, and Pater thought it was now or never. He’ll be doing yard maintenance and digging graves. He likes to spend as much time outdoors as possible, so it was a good fit, Pater said.
Looking back on the past three decades, Pater is proud of what he's accomplished.
“I’ve been truly blessed,” Pater said. “I've had a lot of opportunities that popped up for me. It’s been a very rewarding career, one that I'm really proud of. I got to climb up through the ranks and work with a ton of great people.
“That’s been the big thing – the people I've met over the years. It’s been awesome.”