Fire Chief Keith Woodley on Wednesday announced his plans to retire after 17 years with Ashland Fire and Rescue.

As chief, Woodley oversaw the planning and construction of the downtown fire station, helped acquire ambulance services and served as the city's leader for emergency response planning. He also led the development of fire codes and ordinances improving wildfire prevention, water supplies for fire protection and fire safety education programs. He began his career in fire service in 1971 and accepted the chief position in March 1991.

Woodley is one of the longest-tenured city department heads and has a wealth of knowledge about the city, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

"Especially as a result of the 1997 flood, he really took charge of our emergency operations planning and preparation for different kinds of events that could happen to us in Ashland," she said.

Woodley will officially retire on Dec. 23. He said he looks forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren and serving at his church.

"The last 37 years in fire service has brought me intense personal satisfaction and appreciation for what can be accomplished when people work together," Woodley said in a statement. "The fire department has always focused on team work as its principal strength. All of the fire safety initiatives we have achieved in Ashland have been a result of the combined efforts of our fire department employees and our citizens."

Mayor John Morrison said Woodley will be missed.

"Ashland has been fortunate to have Keith Woodley as fire chief for so many years," Morrison said. "Under his leadership he brought an innovative approach to fire prevention and his dedication to the safety of the citizens of Ashland has been demonstrated time and time again."

A search to replace Woodley could take four to six months and will begin almost immediately, Bennett said.

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