CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For years, West Virginia fire departments had no definitive way to ensure their equipment and training programs were up to date, so state Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis developed a new division that evaluates paid- and volunteer-fire departments. Inspectors visit fire stations and write reports."A lot of the fire departments didn't know exactly where they were as far as their training and equipment," said Virgil White, South Charleston's assistant fire chief. "Now, they're able to see their progress."Lewis, who served as West Virginia's fire marshal for the past 13 years, stepped down this week. His last day was Tuesday.White, who serves on the state Fire Commission, said Lewis spearheaded legislation that strengthened West Virginia's fire code and improved public safety. Lewis led a statewide push to persuade homeowners to install smoke detectors, White said.
"He was always trying to make things better, not only for the public, but for first responders," White said Thursday. "He was always willing to work with anybody that had a problem and help solve their problem."The Fire Marshal's Office investigates suspicious fires, inspects building to ensure they meet fire codes and provides training programs for firefighters. The office also licenses electricians, and regulates fireworks and explosives.Lewis, 62, notified office employees in February about his plan to retire, his secretary said Thursday. Anthony Carrico, Lewis' chief deputy, is serving as acting fire marshal until the Fire Commission hires a permanent replacement."It's going to be a detailed process to replace Sterling," said Bob Sullivan, the commission's chairman. "We're going to take our time."Sullivan said firefighters across the state knew Lewis and spoke highly of him."His experience with the fire service was extensive," Sullivan said. "We appreciate everything he has done."Lewis, a Raleigh County native, was a schoolteacher and coach before taking over as fire marshal, a job that paid him $75,000 last year. He was unavailable for comment Thursday."Any time you have a person in that position who's made things for the better, it's hard to see them go," White said. "It was great working with him for all these years. He's going to be missed."Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.