The city of Hanceville made history this year by hiring its first, full-time fire chief for the traditionally all-volunteer fire department, an action that made this story No. 8 in the year's top 10 news stories.

Upon selecting 37-year-old Mike Watson to be the new chief, they sent him to a department with a poor reputation at best. Amidst reports of abused equipment and a lackluster work ethic, the department even faced accusations of fire fighters refusing to respond to fires.

He's vowed to change that though.

During his first day on the job, that change started with cleaning up the station's offices and work area. It also meant becoming a plumber to replace broken and running toilets.

His plans don't stop there though.

Future plans for the Hanceville Department include a possible ladder truck to reach the taller buildings at Wallace State Community College and a possible new station, which will double as a community center.

Watson said he has already started applying for state and federal grants to cover the new machinery. He hopes those changes will come within the next three years.

In addition, he is also working to improve the workforce.

"Right now we've got the good ol' boy syndrome," said Watson. "I want people that understand that this equipment belongs to the community, people that take care of the equipment so that it's ready to save lives when needed."

To help accomplish that goal, Watson said he is focusing on recruiting younger volunteers for the department, including recruiting college students.

"I'd like to recruit people that may possibly want to look at this as a career path," Watson said.

Other plans for the station include the implementation of regulations to help emergency personnel know how to respond under certain situations.

Watson comes to Hanceville from the Madison Fire Department where he was part of their heavy-rescue squad for two years.

Under that operation, he was called up to help rescue victims of hurricanes Ivan, Katrina and Rita.

Prior to Madison, he worked as a firefighter for the city of Birmingham for six years.

Watson is a resident of Hayden.

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