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From bringing home burnt bunnies from brush fires to designing new firetrucks for the City of Williamsburg Fire Department – and a post-9/11 mission to the Pentagon in between – Randy Banks has had an illustrious career in the fire service.
But upon his retirement as a battalion chief for the department, effective Friday, Banks said it will be the lights, the sirens and his fellow firefighters he’ll miss the most.
“Even though it’s changed over 30 years, it’s still a family,” Banks said. “It’s all been fun. I’ve enjoyed it all.”
Banks joined the department in 1986 and will retire after 29 years of service, but his experience in the fire service began long before he came to the city.
At 4 years old, Banks joined his father on calls with the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department, he said. His father, Lacy, is a life member and former volunteer chief.
Banks said he has “vivid memories” from those calls, ranging from the innocent – rescuing burnt bunnies – to the morose, when he saw someone die for the first time.
He started volunteering for the department when he was 15, but said he did not consider a career in the fire service until after he had started a family.
He hadn’t been with the city long before his father called to ask him how the job was going. His answer: “Dad, I love it.”
“I knew this was more of a career and it ended up more as a lifestyle,” Banks said.
The defining call of his career came early on, Banks said. In December 1988, Banks helped a state trooper perform CPR on a 10-year-old boy who was injured in an accident in Croaker.
The successful resuscitation earned Banks awards from the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department and the American Red Cross.
“It was kind of like, ‘All right, I can make a difference,’” Banks said.
One of the most challenging experiences of his career, Banks said, was an emergency response call to the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks. Banks, a member of the FEMA Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue team, said he spent eight days shoring up the building and dealing with debris.
He said his most distinct memory is the “odor” task force members developed as they worked.
“That made you look at things a little differently,” Banks said of the experience. “It kind of hit home.”
Banks rose through the ranks and became a battalion chief 12 years ago. In this role, Banks said he felt like his responsibility was to “make sure the guys and girls have everything they need to do their job.”
When the city began its apparatus rotation program in 2010, Banks chaired the committee that designed new vehicles for the department. Some of the unique features of the new apparatus include a compressed air foam system and efficient, well-organized cabinets, Banks said.
“I know that’s something he’s really proud of, and we are as well,” Fire Chief Pat Dent said.
A handyman by choice and trade – Banks also works as a carpenter for general contractor Henry S. Branscome – he has applied his expertise to efforts big and small, from installing lights in offices to serving as project manager for the construction of the city’s Emergency Operations Center, where the fire administration is headquartered.
Colleagues agreed that Banks has been a dependable and dedicated member of the City of Williamsburg Fire Department.
“I can honestly say, if you ask any of the firefighters, they would say they respect him and appreciate his leadership and the institutional knowledge he brought to the table about the city and what the community’s expectations are of the fire service here in Williamsburg,” Dent said.
Firefighter medic John Hansen has known Banks for more than 30 years and said the department would miss his “vast knowledge” of the city and its buildings. He said he admired Banks’ work ethic, a quality he has observed since they were in high school together.
“Randy is the type of guy who gives 100 percent,” Hansen said. “I don’t think he’s ever really given anything less when he comes to work.”
Lee Ward, a lieutenant and acting battalion chief for the department, said he appreciated Banks’ mentorship and admired him for his knowledge, ability to multitask and belief in family and hard work.
“Even when he’s not around his immediate family, we’re his family here,” Ward said. “If we needed anything, he got it for us. Randy just did it.”
The most important advice he learned from Banks is to “always, always take care of your guys,” Ward said.
Just shy of 30 years with the department, Banks said he decided to retire because he felt like it was “time for a change.”
“It’s time for some of these younger guys to have a chance at this,” Banks said.
Big changes have already happened for Banks in recent months, leading to his decision to retire. He has remarried and his grandchildren have moved to Texas. He said he wants to make time to visit them so he can enjoy experiences he may have missed with his own children due to the job.
However, Banks said he is not hanging up his helmet just yet: He may volunteer with James City-Bruton and he has left behind a coffee mug for when he visits the fire administration offices.