In 1978, a 19-year-old James Williams donned a firefighter's uniform for the first time with the .
In a few months, he'll take that uniform off for the last time.
Williams, 53, is planning to retire as chief of the Kent Fire Department in early 2012 after a 33-years with Kent's fire department, the last 16 of which he spent as chief.
"It’s going to be tough to leave the job," he said. "This is all I’ve done."
Williams said his decision to retire has been in the making for some time now and should come as no surprise to the department. It's a decision primarily based on long-term health issues compounded by the stress of running the busiest department in Portage County.
"It’s reached a point where I think it’s best to step down and spend time with my family," he said.
Williams said it's the 34 people who make the fire department what it is that he'll miss the most.
"I can’t say enough about the guys that work here," he said. "They truly are the reason that I have been successful. They have allowed me to do my job and not worry about doing everything on a day-to-day basis because they’ve done their jobs and done them well.
"They’re also the reason that I’m here,” Williams added. "I didn’t plan to stay in Kent when I got hired here. I wanted to work at a larger department. After being here for a couple years, it was just a fun place to work and a great group of guys to work with, and I never left."
After 33 years, there are also some memorable calls that the chief will never forget.
Williams recalled an ambulance run early in his career to a home in the Village of Brady Lake. A Texas couple had just moved to the area and the husband had driven up that day with his pregnant wife in the passenger seat.
"They had no sooner than pulled into the driveway of this house … and we delivered the baby in the house," Williams said. "That one will stick with me. She actually sent pictures of the baby afterwards, and I still have those pictures."
There have been some close calls in house fires that he won't soon forget. Other, simpler calls were mere gestures of kindness — like the time the on-duty crew helped an out-of-town couple track down a hotel room.
"Those things are just unforgettable," Williams said. "It’s truly been a great job where I’ve been able to help people who truly need help."
Williams isn't the first prominent Kent leader to decide to step down in the past year.
In December 2010, former Principal around the same time as former Kent Police Chief . In February, former director Carmen Zampini announced . Also in February, John Ferlito announced as Kent's health commissioner.
Williams said officially his last day will be Feb. 29, 2012, but he plans to stay on until the service test is administered and the city hires its new chief. The city's charter mandates the department hire from within, so the position will be advertised first to the department's three captains. Two must apply; if not the position will then be offered to include the lieutenants.
"They all have a decision to make. It’s a tough decision for them as well," he said. "It’s a big switch to go from working a 24-48 to eight-hour days, five days a week. We have been working hard over the last few years to bring people up to speed, not only for the chief’s position but for the other positions as well. Whoever gets the position is going to do well in it."