There will be a changing of the guard at the Willow Grove Volunteer Fire Company starting tonight.
Chief Lee Perlmutter will be stepping down as Chief and will turn his duties over to Brian Focht, who currently serves as Assistant Chief. Perlmutter will stay onboard with the company and assume the duties of the Deputy Chief.
That announcement will officially be made at tonight’s monthly meeting starting at 6:30 p.m.
Perlmutter has served as Chief for the last 10 years and has been part of the Willow Grove Fire Company for over 30 years stemming back to 1970.
“We’ve been officers together for years,” Perlmutter said about him and Focht. “At one time, due to family obligations, (Focht) had stepped back. I had been his deputy before, I had been Chief previously, and so I stepped back into the role. One of the things I told him 10 years ago was, ‘When you’re ready, you’ll tell me and you can have it back.”
Both men said there won’t be a whole lot that changes in the way they go out about their business, and their close-knit, family-type relationship makes this transition even easier.
“I know I will be there for (Focht) when he needs my thoughts or wants to bounce something off me,” Perlmutter said. “We all have our own ways of doing things, but we see things very similarly.”
Focht added, “We succeed as a team and we fail as a team. The transition is just going to be the title."
Focht, who is a life member of the Second Alarmers Rescue Squad, has been with the company for the last 28 years after getting his start at the Fort Washington Fire Company.
He brings a wealth of experience to the table being a professional trainer working with PECO Energy Training Academy. Perlmutter says Focht is very good dealing with safety issues and is “acutely aware.”
Even when Perlmutter was Chief, Focht has always been right by his side and in the loop to know exactly what is going on in the Fire Company.
“For the last 10 years that I’ve been Chief, (Focht) was always my sounding board,” Perlmutter said. “We’re very good friends. There wasn’t a whole that happened –that was important – that he didn’t know about.”
Both men are looking forward to the change and challenges that are ahead. Focht said that it may take a little getting used to not being the “inside guy” anymore, but is looking forward to the future.
“The responsibility definitely shifts,” Focht said. “We’re going to make decisions based as a team; and how they react on the street falls back on me.”
The respect these two men have for one another is obvious, but changing things up can have a positive effect for everyone involved.
“In anything, every once in a while, you need to shake the deck up,” Perlmutter said. “A new set of eyes sees things differently.”
Even with a new title, Focht will go about business as usual and maintain the same relationships he’s had in the past.
“(Perlmutter is) always going to be Chief to me,” Focht said. “That’s a respect thing. I’ve come up in the fire service and that’s respect.”