COLUMN: Shirley will always be a legend in Chelsea

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

There are people that make a difference and then there are legends. Former Chelsea Fire Chief Wayne Shirley will always be a legend to the city he protected for 19 years.

Considered a father of the city, Shirley became the city’s first and only fire chief in 2001. But on Thursday, Aug. 6, shockwaves were felt across the city when the chief died after battling a chronic health issue.

Many were left heartbroken and devastated by the news, but at the same time, Shirley’s impact on so many was felt by the number of people who shared genuine words about the caring and kind person he was.

I remember when I first met Shirley. I was two months into my job as a staff writer for the Shelby County Reporter as a staff writer and was covering a Chelsea City Council meeting.

Shirley was doing one of his favorite aspects of the job when he showcased the department’s new air packs and safety equipment.

He took pride in not only talking about the department itself, but what they were doing to make it safer for those putting their lives on the line to protect the community.

I’ll never forget the pride he carried himself with during that first meeting and interview. It was evident by the giddy look on his face and rapid tone by which he talked about the fire department that it was his number one priority.

That’s a sentiment many felt about Shirley.

Listening to others talk about the person he was and reading comments on social media, it’s easy to see how dedicated Shirley was to his community and that nobody took it for granted.

When he passed away at the age of 53, we lost a true hero way too early.

Shirley was someone who had an interest in serving the public since he was an 11-year-old boy growing up in Chelsea, and 23 years later, he made that dream a reality when he became the city’s first fire chief.

From that point forward, his only thought was how to properly serve the residents of a city he cherished his entire life.

A man of faith and family, Shirley did everything in his power to recognize his firefighters and give credit to anybody other than himself.

He was a selfless man that there is no replacing. Instead, we can only remember with fondness what he did to make the city so great, and how to continue to use his example to make the world a better place.

Shirley may no longer be roaming the city of Chelsea, but his watchful eye will forever be present serving the city he loved so much.