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His work:  New fire chief for the Town of Riverside.  After serving as interim since January, he was selected to permanently replace retired chief Ray Sweat early last month.  “I was out on a game warden boat looking for that silly alligator when the council approved my appointment.”

About Chief Sweat:  “He left me a department any new chief could only dream of.  He fought a lot of uphill battles to get us a new station and better equipment.  A lot of things he did have made my job easier.”

The biggest misconception people have about firefighters:  “That we sit around and do nothing until we have a call. The reason that’s a misconception is because there are so many things to do in between getting calls.  We have station duties, trucks to be maintained, hoses and hydrants to be tested, and business inspections to do.  We’re constantly busy because our downtime is a continuous process of preparing for the next fire call.”

The biggest challenge facing small-town fire departments:  “Funding.   The problem with fire services…well, it’s not a problem so much as an issue we face…is that the things we need to provide basic fire services are expensive, high-dollar items.  If you need a new engine, you’re talking $200,000-plus, and that’s probably on the low end. There is nothing in fire and rescue services that is cheap.”

How is it paid for?  “Chief Sweat and I have been very aggressive in applying for grants.  Over the last nine years, the department has received more than $500,000 in grant money.  And even though there has been a decline in revenue recently, the mayor, council, and city administration have done a lot to understand our needs and try to help us.  Without all that, we’d be nowhere.”

A good thing about a small-town fire department:  “It’s a tight unit.  Everyone works together. There’s more of a close-knit, homey feeling than you would find in a big-city department.  The feel we have is like a big family, with the goal of providing our town with the best services possible.”

The Riverside FD:  It’s comprised of 32 people.  Kurzejeski says he doesn’t make a distinction between paid and volunteer firefighters.  “They’re all responders.  That includes me.  My title is chief, but I’m part of the team just like anyone else.  I’d take my whole department against any other department anywhere in the state of Alabama.  I can’t say enough about how dedicated our people are.  They take tremendous pride in this town and this department.”

The department and the community:  “We want to be a community-oriented department, with town-based CPR classes, open houses, and things like that.  I want the town to realize what kind of fire department we have.  It’s a well-trained group of experienced people who totally have the town and its citizens as a priority.”

His philosophy:  “We’re in the customer service business.  Everything we do is based around taking care of people’s needs.”

His goals:  “One is to have the station staffed 24/7.  One of our long-term goals is to have a new station on Highway 78.  I want to start building on it next week, but that’s probably five or 10 years down the road.  It’ll take a little time to progress to where are goals are, but we’re in a continuing process of making things better.”

His career as a firefighter:  His involvement with fire services began through an Exploring program when he was a teenager.  He has served with the Pell City Fire Department and as assistant chief at Riverside.  “My family has a background in public safety, so I didn’t know anything different.  Like any other job, it has its good days and bad days, but after 14 years, I look forward to going to work in the morning.”

His uncommon surname:  It’s of Polish origin.  Born in upstate New York, Kurzejeski is also of Irish descent.

Something someone would be surprised to know about him:  “I take my job very seriously, so I think someone would be surprised to know that I actually do like being away from the fire department sometimes.”  He enjoys spending his free time camping and fishing with his three children, and “I try to pick up my golf clubs every now and again.”

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