WENDELL — About 13 years ago, Brian Staples traded the corporate ladder for a ladder truck.
Selling insurance had become monotonous, and Staples was spending more time volunteering for the Wendell Fire Department than at his insurance office.
“That’s when I realized it was time to make a change,” he said.
No opportunities were available in eastern Wake at the time. So Staples began his firefighting career among the bottom ranks of the Durham Fire Department.
After six years in Durham, he took a job as a lieutenant with the Wendell Fire Department. He was promoted to captain in 2008. And in April, the department’s board of directors named Staples the interim chief of Wendell Fire after chief Tom Vaughan – Staples’ father-in-law – retired.
Several firemen applied to succeed Vaughan. But the board picked Staples.
“What really impressed me was his knowledge of procedures and human relations,” said Commissioner James Parham, a Wendell Fire Department board member.
For eight years, Staples was a volunteer at the department until he was hired full-time in 2006. He’s also active in the community, serving as the wrestling coach at East Wake High School.
Board member and former Wendell mayor Harold Broadwell said Staples impressed him with his presentation to the board. “I changed my mind during the process,” Broadwell said.
Staples assumed the official role of Wendell Fire Chief on Aug. 1. In an interview last week, he reflected on his climb to the top.
“I’m not like a lot of these guys who knew from the start they wanted to do this,” Staples said. “But I’ve always wanted to help people. I didn’t mind starting in my thirties.”
Now 46, Staples is in charge of 40 people – a 20-person staff and 20 volunteers – and a department that responded to 1,880 calls last year. The budget is over $1 million, so he spends a lot more time sitting behind a desk than he did as a captain.
“It’s been hard sometimes not to grab a hose or piece of equipment,” Staples said. “Instead of doing things myself, I’ve had to learn to delegate.”
The department isn’t used to a chief working with a learning curve. Staples is the department’s second leader since 1985, when Vaughan was hired. Staples hopes Vaughan’s advice will help him settle into his new role.
“He taught me to treat everyone fairly,” Staples said.
It won’t be hard, he added.
“I love the camaraderie,” he said. “And I’ve always had guys I trust and enjoy working with.”