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On August 1, the Shelbyville Fire Department will say goodbye to longtime chief Willard E. “Tiger” Tucker. After 25 years with the department, 13 of which as chief, Tucker has announced his retirement.
When asked what he’ll miss most about the job, Tucker immediately responded with, “The people, I’ll miss the people.”
“There’s no substitute for living with somebody 24-hours at a time. You become a family. You argue, you complain, you fight about spoons in the sink,” he said. “But in the end you are family. You don’t get that at other work places. You create a different relationship than you do leaving at five o’clock.”
Tucker’s desire to work for the fire department developed at a young age.
“I was a police brat growing up. My dad retired from the state police, but I never wanted to be a police officer,” he said.
But Tucker did like the idea of helping his community.
“I liked the fire service because it’s different everyday,” he said.
Tucker studied fire science at Eastern Kentucky University and began volunteering at the age of 16.
“I started as a volunteer…in 1983 at Bagdad and Eminence and went to work for Shelby County EMS in 1988 when I got my EMT certification,” he said. “My ultimate goal was to be a fulltime firefighter and it just worked out that Shelbyville had a position open.”
Tucker said he was grateful to have a career with the fire department in his hometown.
And through the years, his attitude towards his career has not faltered.
“It’s nice to go in and do something different every day,” he said. “We make a thousand runs every year, but each person you see…that might be the first time they see you their whole life…We have to deal with people’s personal tragedies and you have to understand they’re not just another run sheet.”
Though Tucker said it no longer made sense for him to continue working as the chief, he’s not ready to hang up his helmet yet.
“I plan to continue to volunteer with East 60 Fire Department and for the State Fire Rescue Training Area 6,” he said. “I may do some fire and investigations work [as well].”
But he also has plans to fish and take care of his family.
Many may assume the nickname Tiger spawned from his relentless desire for work and excitement. However, Tucker said that’s not the case.
“I’ve been called that since before I was born, that’s the truth. I kicked a lot when my dad was trying to sleep. He worked very long shifts, six days a week,” he said. “Honestly it just stuck. Senators and governors, that’s what everyone knows me by.”
This past Thursday, a retirement party was held at City Hall in his honor. Friends and family, along with city and county employees were in attendance, including Mayor Tom Hardesty. Guests bid him farewell with a cake decorated with a photo of a fire truck, food, and signed photo collages.
Tucker said he wanted to leave everyone with one piece of advice.
“I wanted to get to the next certification or the next promotion. But somewhere along the way I found what was truly important. I encourage everyone to take time to enjoy the relationships that are built over the course of one’s career,” he said. “ I have had the good fortune to build many while working here. Now it is someone else’s turn.”