BY MELANIE BUCK –
Mena Fire Department will soon have a ‘changing of the guards’ as long-time Chief John Puckett retires and Assistant Fire Chief Steve Egger will be promoted to fill his position. On March 3, 2017, Puckett will have been a part of the Mena Fire Department for 35 years, exactly.
Puckett’s interest in fire fighting began as an employee of what was then U.S. Motors. He was a part of the fire brigade at the factory and was trained by Odell Egger (Mena Fire Chief at the time, and also Steve Egger’s father). In 1975, Puckett attended the Fire Academy in Camden and said he was “instantly hooked.”
His career as a fire fighter began in 1979 when he joined the Ink Volunteer Fire Department after attending the academy, on March 3, 1982 he was hired on at Mena. Becoming a “full-timer” in 1992, he transitioned to Chief in 2001. “We’ve had a great bunch of guys and they are just like family. I raised several of them. I know I helped raise him,” Puckett laughed while pointing at Egger.
In fact, Steve Egger was raised in the fire department, literally. With his father being Chief, Egger’s family lived above the Mena Fire Department. He fondly remembers playing on the fire trucks as a young boy and riding in the parades. “My house was the place for all the best birthday parties,” Egger smiled.
Egger said Puckett has “been a good leader, even prior to becoming Chief.” Puckett admitted that one of his worst fears as a leader was to have to tell a person’s loved one they had died or were hurt. “I never had to do that,” said Puckett.
Egger believes one of Puckett’s largest undertakings were his duties during the 2009 tornado that ripped through Mena. “He was in charge of clean up and getting rid of debris, hiring crews, getting things back to normal. That was a chore. He served the community well during that time,” said Egger. Puckett was honored as The Pulse’s Citizen of the Year during that time due to his extraordinary efforts during on the community’s most devastating tragedies.
Puckett is sure he is leaving the place in good hands. “I’ll miss it, there’s no doubt. I’ll miss the guys and fighting fire.” He plans to travel in his free time.
Egger, being raised around the industry, carries a lot of knowledge with him to the position of Chief. Although right out of high school he chose another path, it eventually led him back to his roots. His career as a fire fighter began in 1984. “I realized I was missing out on the department,” he said and has been there ever since. His wife, Cindy, has also served as a volunteer for 28 years.
Egger has no major changes or plans for the department. “I just want to continue to strive to make it a better community with the best services we can.” He said the comradery and “working with a group of brothers and sisters that all work hard for their community to keep it safe” is his favorite part of the job. “One of the most satisfying things is educating the kids at school. They are just like a sponge soaking it up.” Both men agreed that educating the community has cut back on calls over the years.
A retirement party is being planned for Puckett on March 3, 2017 from 4 – 6 p.m. at Mena Fire Station #1 on DeQueen Street. Everyone is welcome to attend