Longtime WC Fire Chief Bennie Green dies at 92
Bennie Green, who began volunteering with the Woodford County Fire Department in 1962 and spent 27 years as chief, died on Jan. 23, 2018. He was 92.
During an interview with The Sun following his retirement after 50 years of service with the WCFD, Green said, “I’ve been retired two days and I’m still waiting for that (fire) alarm to go off. You go to bed at night expecting it to go off. All during the day, you’re expecting it to go off.”
Firefighting, Green said, “gets in your blood.”
So even after he retired, whenever the longtime chief heard the siren of a fire engine, he couldn’t help but wonder if the firefighters were okay.
“I won’t say they’re a good bunch of guys. They’re just the best. And you can’t help but worry about them,” said Green.
“Every man on that department is my closest friend.”
“People don’t know how many hours he really put in at the fire department,” said Varner during a recent interview, “because he was out all hours of the night. He was just a hard worker and good at his job. And he really did a lot for the Woodford County Fire Department. He really built it up.”
In that 2012 interview with The Sun, Green said he made his first fire run in 1962, with “Doc” Britton and Stanley Price in a 1951 Ford pumper truck.
“When I first started,” Green remembered, “we’d go out on a fire run and come back, we’d take up a collection out of our own pocket to buy gas to go in the truck.”
In 1962, a fire district generated enough tax dollars to build county station No. 1. “We still just had one truck,” said Green, “but we had a place to put it.”
Looking back on his years working with Green, Varner said he not only learned how to fight fires, but also to operate a fire department like a business with fiscal responsibility.
The Woodford County Fire Department never went into debt to build a station or buy a truck under Green’s leadership, he added.“He saved taxpayers all kinds of money,” said WCFD Chief John Smith, who began working alongside Green as a part-timer in the early-1990s and became a fulltime firefighter in 2005.
When Green retired in 2012, the Woodford County Fire Department had five stations housing numerous trucks and 10 pumpers. The department also had five brush trucks that Green said he custom-designed to fight grass fires in rural areas.
“There wasn’t anything that Bennie couldn’t do with his hands,” said Smith, who succeeded Varner as WCFD chief in January. He said Green often lay awake at night thinking of a solution for a problem.
“He had the best memory,” said Smith. “He had every (fire) hydrant in this county memorized – the location of them, where they were at. And addresses … when that alarm went off he had that address in the back of his mind and he knew pretty … much exactly where that location was at.”
Asked how he dealt with seeing the loss of life during his years with the fire department, Green said, “You can’t just set it aside because it does bear on your mind – especially children…”
Green never forgot a young boy who was tickled to find a model plane that he was building not damaged by the flames or smoke of a fire that destroyed his family’s home. “He had a gentle heart,” said Smith.
Green was employed by Kentucky Truck Lines for 33 years before he retired and became a fulltime firefighter with the Woodford County Fire Department in 1980. He took over as chief when Richard Bumgardner retired in 1985.
Throughout his career with the Woodford County Fire Department, Green and his firefighters remained huge supporters of the WHAS Crusade for Children, which raises money for special needs children in Kentucky schools.
“That,” said Smith, “was one thing he definitely believed in – is doing that Crusade for Children.” And firefighters with the department continue to collect donations to support their local schools each year, he added.
Described by Varner as “a one-of-a-kind fellow,” Green told The Sun in 2012 that his long career with the fire department would not have been possible without his wife. Evelyn Chappell Green never uttered a word of complaint about her husband being called away from dinner or missing a family gathering because of a fire, the longtime WCFD chief told The Sun after his retirement.