72-Year-Old Kentucky Fire Chief, FD Founder, Dies After Heart Attack

Kentucky Fire Chief Lester Philips died August 4, 2004 after doing what he loved best, co-workers said - fighting fires and helping people.

Phillips, 72, founded the Sunshine Volunteer Fire Department in 1981 and served as Chief until his death.

"He didn't have anything to start with," said Chief Jack Lundy. "Just a wagon with hose on the back like in the old days."

"From then on we have prospered," Lundy said.

Phillips raised money and recruited volunteers, building the department up to one of the largest in Harlan County today, with 34 volunteers and 9 vehicles, Lundy said.

Phillips died after suffering a heart attack at the scene of a house fire, Lundy said. He had complained of chest pains at the fire scene, so firefighters helped him into a truck to get him away from the smoke. He later drove back to the station and then went home, and only agreed to visit a hospital after much persuasion from his son, Lundy said. Phillips did not recover from the heart attack and died a few days after the incident at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington.

Phillips was always looking for ways to help people out, Lundy said, such as using his own backhoe to clean the roads in the winter. "Everybody knew him, everybody," Lundy said.

He said Phillips will also be remembered for his joyful nature. He loved to joke around and would hold cookouts prior to training exercises. "He just liked to be happy and get things going," Lundy said.

Phillips was also a former member of the Harlan Rescue Squad and Harlan VFD, and was inducted into the Southeast Kentucky Firefighters Hall of Fame in 2002 for his many years of dedication to the fire service.

In addition to his work at the fire department, Phillips worked until is death as owner and operator of Lester Phillips Moving and Storage and Lester Phillips Trucking and Excavating companies.

He is preceded in death by his wife and a son, and has several surviving children and grandchildren.

For his funeral services, Phillips was carried on the back of a 1959 GMC, the first truck the department had ever purchased - just as he wanted, Lundy said. The department has also prepared a plaque to place on the front of the fire station in remembrance of the founder and fire chief.