Double Duty: Kentucky Man is Police Officer, Firefighter

Posted: 07-17-2008
Updated: 07-17-2008 09:11:51 AM

Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

Jul. 17--Please excuse the police officer driving the firetruck down U.S. 231.

For the past 20 years, Jeff Williams has gotten a lot of practice tearing off his badge-clad blues only to pull on bunker gear as he tears up the path from the Owensboro Police Department to the Masonville Fire Department.

But sometimes he gets caught in transition.

"Heck, I've driven the truck still wearing my OPD shirt," admitted Williams.

Lights, sirens and service have become a way of life for Williams, who is one of the only local officials to make the transition between the two services with the ease of unclipping his police radio from his belt and replacing it with a pager.

And while there is an unspoken rivalry between police and fire departments and between paid and unpaid fire units, Williams said his experience has taught him the best of both worlds.

"I can see both sides, I've seen the side when people are glad to see you show up and I've seen the side when they say 'oh no, why are they here,' " Williams said. "But you get a sense of satisfaction either way you get there. I take care of my job the way it's supposed to be done."

Some days the officer turns off his blue lights for the day only to have red lights flash across his captain's helmet minutes later. For Williams, both sets of lights have left lasting impressions.

"Anytime you have the ability to save someone's life, that's something you remember," he said.

And Williams has saved a lot of lives -- just flip through the extensive pages of his "police" and "fire" scrapbooks.

Since starting at OPD in 1989, Williams has been recognized three times by the governor for making the most DUI arrests in Kentucky. Between serving on the emergency response team and as a fire investigator, Williams also caught the spotlight for hopping in the bed of a truck to catch a fleeing stalking suspect.

"This woman came to the police department and said, 'He's trying to hit me,' " Williams recalled of his 1993 chase. "... He ran into a car with me watching and then backed up going the wrong way on Fourth Street and came at me."

Williams leaped in the bed of the truck, reached around the passenger window and choked the driver until the vehicle came to a stop.

"I just did it," Williams said. "I was determined to get him, especially after he tried to get away."

His co-workers say that story hardly flashes a light to his determination and commitment to his job.

"Jeff is always into something because he takes the initiative (and) never stops policing proactively," Marian Cosgrove, spokeswoman for the department, said. "He's always looking. Even on night shift, when there's 80 percent down time and 20 percent excitement, he's out looking for DUIs and trying to find a burglary in progress."

Cosgrove said during her time working with Williams on the street, she learned how to stay patient and listen even when people can become difficult.

"The community really respects Jeff because with him, it's not all black and white," she said. "He considers all the angles and considers the best possible outcome for the community, the suspect and officer safety. Sometimes that means taking someone to jail but often times he finds a better resolution."

Williams started volunteering at the fire department in 1986 and while moving up the ladder in rank and working for Daviess County Emergency Management Service as an EMT, met some of the police officers who encouraged him to become a "brother in blue."

Now serving as captain for the fire department, Williams said he actually enjoys fighting fires a little more than putting out fires with the police department.

"It's all the excitement and adrenaline that gets your blood flowing," he said. "The lights and sirens getting there and getting done what you need to do to get the job done ... I can't sit behind a desk. I like to be out, I like being in the middle of everything ... we're running into a building where everyone else is running out."

Williams cruises the city streets on night shift and said he feels bad when he is too exhausted to answer a fire call that may come out just hours after he falls asleep in the mornings. And while he sometimes fights exhaustion with as much vengeance as a fire, he said the support of his family and friends keeps him serving and protecting.

"Doing what we do, you don't make a lot of money," he said. "But it gives you the ability to protect those that can't protect themselves..