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Fire Chief John Anderson sits beneath a row of portraits of his predecessors, the former chiefs of the Morehead Fire Department. Jeff is the department's only full-time employee. At 57, he has no plans to retire for at least another decade. "Ten years I'm hoping," he says. "If I like it and I feel good, I'll just keep working. I feel good now, and I love to work."

A burning passion

story by Madison Simmons

"It’s an unusual situation."

That’s what Morehead Fire Department Chief Jeff Anderson, 57, says of his life balancing his two loves: his family and his work. He moved to town eight years ago to lead the Morehead Fire Department, leaving his family 140 miles away.

"It's a sacrifice," Jeff says. "It's different, but we manage."

That's not the only unusual part of Jeff's life. He also is Morehead's only full-time firefighter. He and two part-time employees and another 60 volunteers watch over 110 square miles in Rowan County, fielding approximately 900 calls a year. "It is a busy job," says Jeff. "Most of the time I feel like I'm on call 24/7. Lots of times I am."

Calls over a recent 48-hour period run the gamut from car wrecks to a laundry-room mishap at Morehead State University to a life-claiming house fire. Jeff intends to catch a nap but never makes it. He says he’s used to it, and anyway, the schedule comes with the job. "I guess that's what I like about it – it's not typical," he says. "It's not going in and doing the same thing. Rarely are days the same."

Jeff's father was a a volunteer firefighter, and his daughter, Kendall, notes firefighting shaped her father's life from an early age. "It’s just been a part of our whole family culture,” she says. “He has a passion.”

Kendall was just 13 when her father moved to Morehead. She says her dad has done everything to make the distance work, and his positive example has her considering a future in firefighting herself. “It’s tough not seeing him all the time, but he works wonders and it’s not that far away."

Jeff doesn't know exactly what the future holds or when his family will reunite, but for now the balance works. “I want to stick this out, try to build this department,” he says. "I think I’ve helped.”


Fire Chief Jeff Anderson lets water out of a hydrant after responding to a call at Morehead State University. A dryer had overheated, leading to a dorm evacuation. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged. Jeff estimates the university makes up 200 of the 900 annual calls received by the fire department.


Fire Chief Jeff Anderson leaves the Morehead State University campus after responding to an incident with an overloaded drying machine. Jeff says the department averages three calls a day.


Fire Chief Jeff Anderson is never without his radio. As the only full-time employee of the Morehead Fire Department, a lot rests on his shoulders. "It's a little different kind of fire chief that has to do the firefighting and drive the engine and do the pumping sometimes, but we have to do what's necessary," he says.


Rowan County Preschool Center students prepare to walk back to school after an introductory lesson on fire prevention at Station #1. Morehead has two fire stations. The city is working on plans to build a replacement to this station, which is outdated.


Chief Jeff Anderson stands by as two of his men finish cleaning up after an incident in a dormatory laundry room at the Morehead State University campus. Jeff oversees 60 volunteer firefighters and recruits year-round. "It takes young guys to keep it going," he says of the volunteer fire department. "I don’t care what older people think about the young generation, it takes young guys to make it work."


The remnants of a mobile home sit beneath a setting sun. Fire Chief Jeff Anderson had responded to the call at 1 a.m. and worked the scene until the morning.


Fire Chief Jeff Anderson stops to chat on his way out of Pasquales, the local pizza joint. Wherever he goes in Morehead, Jeff runs into someone he knows.


Fire Chief Jeff Anderson coordinates calenders with his wife, Sandy. She lives 140 miles away from Morehead, in Wilmore. The pair have lived apart for eight years. "It's a long distance relationship," says Jeff. "It's good and bad."

49 of 79 stories