Beaver Creek fire chief retires after career that spans over three decades
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Starting as a teen and capping a career as the fire chief, Roger Weatherly urges anyone interested in becoming a firefighter to step forward and serve their community.
Weatherly retired on Jan. 31 after serving three years as Beaver Creek Township’s fire chief. He served as a volunteer firefighter, full-time firefighter, and chief for just over three decades.
Weatherly was 17 and just graduated from Grayling High School in 1982 when the Beaver Creek Township Fire Department was being formed. He said some friends signed on to serve as volunteer firefighters.
“I got talked into joining, and I stayed with it,” he said.
Founding Fire Chief Ed Holtcamp was hired to establish the department and train firefighters. Weatherly said basic firefighting training was 66 hours then.
Prior to forming the department, the Lyon Township Fire Department covered the southern part of Beaver Creek Township, and the Grayling Fire Department covered the northern part of the township. The building of the Weyerhaeuser and Georgia Pacific plants prompted township officials to establish the fire department.
“That whole end started developing, so the need arouse for the township to provide its own fire service,” Weatherly said.
The fire department started responding to calls on Jan. 1, 1983. Shortly afterwards, Weatherly recalled fighting a fire at the Black Bear Bar.
“When that burnt down, that was a pretty hot one,” he said.
Weatherly started taking courses at Kirtland Community College to earn a degree in drafting and design. He worked jobs at a local gas station and at AJD Forest Products.
After taking a year off from college, Weatherly returned to complete his degree. But in 1988, a full-time position to serve as a firefighter for Beaver Creek Township was available, and Weatherly accepted the position after he was offered the job.
“I thought that would be a good place to stay,” he said.
The only drafting work Weatherly completed was drawing up the blueprints, when the Beaver Creek Township Hall moved to its current location.
“I helped them out with that, but other than that, I didn’t utilize the drafting that much,” he said.
Weatherly said he enjoyed serving his community as a firefighter.
“Starting out it was the camaraderie with the guys, and just helping out the general public was very rewarding,” he said.
Fighting forest fires were some of most notable experiences in Weatherly’s career.
In 1990, the Stephan Bridge Road Fire near Grayling consumed eight miles of vegetation in a four-hour time period. While no one was killed, the fire destroyed 76 homes and another 125 out-buildings. A smoldering brush fire, wind, and neighboring jack pines led to the cause and extent of the fire.
Sparks from a train travelling in windy conditions through jack pine and hardwoods started the April 2008 Four Mile Fire near Grayling in Crawford County, which spread over 1,500 acres and destroyed three homes.
In May 2010, two wildfires occurred days apart. The Meridian Boundary Fire in Crawford County consumed nearly 9,000 acres with 12 homes and 39 other structures lost. The Range Nine Fire in nearby Kalkaska County was smaller at 1,040 acres and fewer homes were lost.
Weatherly wasn’t personally involved with the Meridian Boundary Fire, but other members of the department did assist with fire suppression efforts.
“Like everybody else, everybody was stretched pretty thin,” Weatherly said.
Weatherly said he has huge respect for firefighters who deal with wildfires on a regular basis.
“I gained a lot of respect for the guys that do that for a living,” he said. “I always tell the younger guys, I can fight house fires all of the time since I can get out of those, because you don’t have a house chasing you down the road. Forest fires move really fast.’”
Weatherly was approached by Beaver Creek Township Board members to take over as fire chief on Jan. 1, 2014, after Holtcamp retired. He committed to the position, but was forced into retirement recently due to medical issues.
“I said I would, but realistically I knew I was on my way out at the time,” he said.
Weatherly said he won’t miss getting early morning calls to respond to a fire or leaving his family as they are huddled around the Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday.
“It’s part of the job,” he said.
Weatherly plans to stay in contact with the firefighters from the department and departments in the surrounding area.
“I will miss the guys – not just our guys, but the guys from the surrounding area fire departments and firemen. You get to know them either through training or assisting them with calls, and you get to know them pretty well,” he said.
Although becoming a firefighter now requires over 140 hours of training, attending meetings, and responding to calls, Weatherly urged area residents to contact their local fire department and to get involved.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s hard to get people to sign up,” he said. “Everybody needs help.”