Community gathers in support of fire chief

WELLSVILLE – The family of Wellsville Fire Chief Bill Smith was surrounded by his firefighting colleagues from East Liverpool, Newell, Glenmoor, Irondale, Calcutta, West Point, Highlandtown and Stratton, as well as friends and village residents who converged on Wellsville Station No. 6 for a prayer vigil on Wednesday evening.

Village Mayor Susan Haugh opened the ceremony with positive news: Smith’s heart is now beating on its own, and he has been disconnected from coronary bypass. “His eyes are open and he has acknowledged his family,” Haugh said. Doctors plan to sit him up in bed this week and, if he continues to improve, will soon remove him from the ventilator as his breathing returns to normal. “The doctors have said it is nothing short of a miracle,” she said, followed by applause and calls of amen.

Haugh said Smith’s strength and spirit was exemplified by his quick return from a less severe heart attack that struck nearly two weeks ago on Feb. 21, a Friday. The following Monday, a stent was implanted in Smith’s heart. He was released from the hospital on Tuesday and casually returned to the fire station on Wednesday, “acting as if nothing had happened,” according to Haugh.

“Chief Smith has always dropped whatever he was doing to be there for anyone who has ever needed him. Now it’s our turn to be there for him and his family,” Haugh said.

Smith’s wife, Cindy, his daughters Liz Stoll and Leslee Camerlin, and his young grandson, Gavin Geary, who asked those in attendance to continue praying for his grandfather. Though many people from Smith’s life rose to speak, none was more poignant than Gavin. “He’s been a great pap and a great chief,” Gavin said. “I’m just not ready to lose him yet. So I hope you’ll all pray for him to get better and that he’ll continue living.”

Volunteer firefighter Greg Stanley spoke of the powerful bond between Smith and his colleagues at the fire station. “He’s got a house there,” Stanley said, pointing toward Smith’s residence, “and a house here,” he said of the fire station. “He’s got a family over there, and he’s got a family here.” Stanley said more prayer would be undertaken to ensure that his fond past memories of Smith may soon be joined by memories yet to be made.

State Representative Nick Barborak said the huge turnout was a tribute not only to Smith but also to the people of Wellsville, who gather together in times of trouble to support one another. He recalled being in contact with Smith during the flooding that swept through the village last summer. “It was very clear to me that he was here (at the station) nonstop. It was about more than a job for him,” Barborak said.

Mark Blakeley, pastor of Wellsville First Christian Church, led the group in prayer and a moment of silent reflection. One of Smith’s former colleagues, Roger Youngblood – now a deacon with Wellsville First Baptist Church – also delivered a rousing prayer in Smith’s honor. “Father, we claim it in the name of Jesus that he will come through those doors when You say it’s time for him to come through those doors, and we’ll forever say thank you,” he said.