Reporter: Ellie Mahan
August 25, 2022
Wayland Price was introduced to the world of firefighting when he was just a toddler. His father was a volunteer firefighter for 15 years, so at two years old, Price began growing up around the camaraderie, the late nights and the risks of the firefighting lifestyle.
By the age of 16, Price began his journey as a firefighter, with his first job under the leadership of his father. He continued with the career for 46 and a half years, serving in Hillsboro for 15 years and in Mansfield and Forest Hill for about 15 years. While maintaining these roles, he also volunteered as a firefighter in Itasca for 30 years.
He then became the fire chief in Whitney for 10 and a half years, where he is also the emergency management coordinator and the EMS director. Price recently announced that he will retire Wednesday, August 31.
He says that he has always wanted to be a fire chief. It was in his father’s nature to take an active role in giving back to the community, and the role model inspired him to help others when he grew up. “I’ve been around the fire service since 1962 when my dad joined. I just kept working my way up. I wanted to be a fire chief to make a difference, to lead a community and to share the knowledge that people have passed on to me,” he said.
For Price, the most memorable moments in his career consist of being there for people on their worst days. He says when someone is watching the belongings in their home burn, he can make their day better by bringing them any items he can save from the fire.“It is rewarding knowing you made a difference in somebody’s life,” Price said.
Price has also enjoyed the atmosphere of the Whitney Fire Department. He said, “We are just a big family. We have our family, and then we have the fire department family.” The firefighters spend many hours together, whether they are outside of work, at the fire department, at Tuesday night meetings or at fund raisers.
One of the biggest challenges in his role has been gaining additional funding for the fire department through grants and fund raisers. Price encourages the community to support their local fire departments.
The Whitney Fire Department’s next fund raiser will be Saturday, September 3. The department will sell barbecue at the “Y” in Whitney from 10:30 a.m. until sold out. The cost is $12 per pound, and plates are $10. A whole brisket can be pre-ordered for $100. Topre-order, call 254-337-0194.
Price said that he has noticed a lot of changes in Whitney in the last 10 years that he has worked here. As the city grows, the probability of a greater number of fires and medical emergencies increases. He said that when he started in Whitney in 2012, the fire department was getting about 300 calls a year, for fire and medical emergencies combined. After 2012, the calls steadily increased by about 10% each year until the pandemic hit in 2020, and the number of calls dropped for a while.
Price said, “In 2021, the calls started picking up, and in 2022, we’ve had a major increase. Part of that was due to the drought at the first of the year and all the structure fires at the first of the year. We had an overabundance of those. When the dry season hit, we had all those grass fires, and our medical calls have increased. Everything has increased all together.”
He said that this year, so far 60% of the fire department’s calls have been for fires, and 40% of them have been for medical emergencies, whereas that statistic is usually reversed.
Price said, “Right now we are set to make about 500 calls this year, if we keep going at the pace we’re going now… With the way the city is growing and the way the county is growing, our call volume is increasing because of the amount of people and the amount of traffic. Traffic used to just be on the weekends because of the lake. Now it’s all the time.”
During the time he has worked in Whitney, Price has also played a major role in getting the EMS program started and further developing it. He said, “When I first came here, the hospital was still running the ambulance program. When they shut down, we had to change gears, and the city had to go into the ambulance business. That was a big challenge for the city.”
Price spearheaded the effort, which involved finding staff, purchasing vehicles, hiring a medical director and becoming licensed through the state. Now the department has two Whitney EMS units and 24 part-time employees.
Price said that the Whitney Fire Department has gained a few more members since his last interview with The Lakelander in March, but the department is constantly looking for more volunteers.
What Price is most looking forward to about retirement is spending more time with his family. He was planning on working in his current role for two and a half more years, but he decided to retire due to health issues involving his family members. Wayland and his wife, Sandy Price, have five boys and 15 grandchildren and great-grandchildren between the two of them. In his retirement, he will also be taking over his family business, Diamond P Handle and Tool Company. He will be the third generation to take over the family business, which his grandfather started in 1969.
Applications for Whitney’s new fire chief are being accepted. The mayor has selected the interim fire chief to be Roy McCleary, who was previously the assistant fire chief. The mayor, the council and Price will have a hand in the process of selecting the new chief from the applicants.