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Thomas Oesterheld, a longtime fire chief for the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department, died Saturday.

He was 75.

Oesterheld retired as chief late last year after serving in the role for nearly 50 years. The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors in December approved a resolution in his honor that lauded the former chief for having “proudly risked his life to protect the lives and property of others.”

Oesterheld, a native Spotsylvanian and graduate of Spotsylvania High School, started running fire calls when he was 18, according to an interview he gave The Free Lance–Star in 2011. He became chief in 1964, making him the youngest fire chief in the state.

“It’s something that gets in your blood and you know you’re helping citizens,” he said in the article. “You can see where you’re making a difference.”

During Oesterheld’s tenure, the county went from having an all-volunteer fire department to one with a mix of volunteer and paid personnel—a transition that has caused tension over the years.

In early 2011, Oesterheld announced his retirement in the wake of new training standards that he and other volunteers deemed unrealistic. Oesterheld, who ultimately decided not to retire then, said at the time that he had attended many training courses over the years but didn’t have records for most of them.

Oesterheld was popular among his peers, as evidenced by the line of fire trucks that parked outside of his house earlier this year in a show of support after he came home from the hospital.

Away from the fire station, Oesterheld liked to fish, garden and cook. He also hosted family dinners every Sunday for 40 years.

Oesterheld is survived by his wife of 54 years, Lucretia; three children; and two grandsons, according to his obituary.

“He loved the sounds of his family spending time together and his young grandsons playing,” the obituary states. “Thomas was generous with his time, generous with his heart, generous with advice and eager to help anyone that ever needed it.”

Mark Kuechler, president of the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department, said the community is hurting over his death.

“I don’t know of a single time where, if somebody needed help or advice or an ear to listen, that he didn’t make himself available,” Kuechler said. “He was selfless when it came to the community.”

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402