Cary, N.C.- Not long ago we met with Pat Bazemore, the Chief of Police. The next day, we had an interview with Allan Cain, Cary’s Fire Chief. Allan is a friendly guy, but matter-of-fact. It was obvious he is dedicated to his work. He just laughed when I asked him what he did with his free time.
The Chief’s Bio
While in High School, Chief Cain had a friend in his hometown of Fayetteville who was a volunteer at the Cumberland Road Fire Department. He convinced Allan to apply and in December 1980 Cain was elected by the membership to be part of the Volunteer Fire Department (he eventually left the Cumberland Department in 1989).
After working as a “co-op” machinist apprentice out of High School, in 1984 Cain was hired as a full-time firefighter by the City of Fayetteville. He served the Fayetteville Fire Department for over 4 years working at several fire stations in Fayetteville. He felt that one of the reasons he was moved among the fire stations so much was because he was able to be a “stabilizing force” when conflict arose in the stations. I could see that in his personality by the way. The interesting thing about his story was that he never told me when he quit the volunteer firefighting team at Cumberland Road after becoming a paid firefighter . The reason? He did both! On his “days off” he would work as a volunteer firefighter at Cumberland Road and work part-time in construction sanding drywall.
When asked if he had ever been scared during a fire, Cain shared a story about live-fire training – “In 1987, they used to set fire to old WWII buildings like barracks, gymnasiums and cafeterias at Fort Bragg for training. I was in a gymnasium, up in a loft when the smoke filled the building, and the fire was growing. For what seemed to be a long time, but was probably only a couple of minutes, I lost sight and sound of my fellow firefighters. I didn’t know where I was and couldn’t find my way around. That was the most scared I’ve ever been.”
“On a funnier note, about 15 years ago we were burning a house for training here in Cary and a raccoon apparently living in the chimney, popped out, scurried down the eave of the house and came charging from the house and made a bee-line for me. It ultimately ran right past me. I was NOT scared, but I reported on the radio that we had a ‘raccoon on the fire ground!’ Firefighters have kidded me ever since, I don’t know if they thought I was afraid of the raccoon or if my radio comment was just plain stupid!”
In 1988 he left Fayetteville to work for Cumberland County as the Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator, helping companies deal with “hazmat” processes and procedures – hazardous materials processes had evolved as his specialty.
A Chief at 25
In 1989, he became the Fire Chief at Dunn – the first paid Chief they ever had. I did the math – he was twenty-five years old! “I made a lot of mistakes, but learned from them,” he told me.
He worked on several projects while there over the course of 4 1/2 years such as “Enhanced 911” and their 800 megahertz radio project – an effort to revamp the communications systems for EMS, fire, police and municipal services. He also headed up efforts implementing updated certification training along with efforts to reduce the City’s insurance classification.
In 1994 he moved to Cary after being hired as Cary’s Deputy Fire Chief. The job was a tough one: handling budgets, long range plans and supervising emergency response. In 2003, he became the Cary Fire Chief.
“Many people believe that being the Chief is this all-empowered position, but really my job is to ensure firefighters are trained and equipped to do their jobs. It is also to ensure that the Town is able to provide effective emergency services. The General Staff of the department develops a service philosophy and methodology. The people in the fire stations do the hard work of executing that philosophy. If I have any influence, it’s to select the right people for the right positions to carry out the mission.”
Cain talked about the Cary Firefighters with great pride. He described them as “amazing”. He also talked about how well the Town of Cary functions mentioning several town officials by name. He called Town Manager Ben Shivar “a great boss – the best , most complete, competent manager I ever worked with.”
The State of the Department
Allan humbly told us that the Cary biannual surveys rate the Fire Department “fairly well”. The CFD responds to approximately 7000 emergencies a year, and has 209 authorized employees. “We are responding to people, most often, on the worst day of their lives. We understand that. We are there to serve the community,” he said.
What’s changed since 2003? Allan Cain believes that “top to bottom we have trained our team to be knowledgeable enough to respond to the problems of the citizens of Cary. We are problem solvers.”
The Cary Fire Department does other things as well. For example, distributing toys for children collected by Project My Pal with kids from the MacNair 4H club to children exposed to traumatic situations. We reported on this earlier in the year.
Allan is currently attending graduate school (transferring from ECU to N.C. State soon) taking courses toward a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.
Almost as an afterthought he told me about his undergraduate degree in business from North Carolina Wesleyan, that he earned as an adult. “You asked earlier,” he said, “what I do in my free time – I guess I like to learn. We also have a 2 1/2 year old son at home (big grin).”