Redell Benton made his place in Paducah history as the city’s first Black Fire Chief, but Paducah Power Meter Installer/Collector Michael Benton, who called him “dad”, is most proud of the type of father Redell was. “He was a better dad than anything,” said Michael. Four months after Redell’s passing, Michael finds inspiration in his dad’s character and hard work in raising a family, along with Redell’s numerous work accomplishments and acts of community service.

Redell came to Paducah immediately after his Tennessee high school graduation in 1965 to study electronics at West Kentucky Vocational School. He earned his degree and met Stella who would capture his heart and make his move to Paducah permanent, raising two sons and, eventually, making his mark as a community leader.  He worked different jobs, sometimes two and three at a time, before he landed at the fire department in 1971 and found the career he would keep for 37 years. “I didn’t realize, until I was older, all the jobs he took to take care of the family back then,” said Michael.

Starting as a Private, Redell moved up through the ranks of the fire department, over the years, to Lieutenant, Captain, and Assistant Chief before landing the top job as Chief, a position he held for twelve years and used to make some key changes. Among the two that stand out most to Redell’s family is hiring the city’s first female firefighters, a move that brought changes to the firehouses and challenges to some people’s beliefs. “He just believed you should get the job if you could do the job,” according to Michael. Redell also implemented the firefighters’ response to wrecks and other emergency calls that weren’t fires. He saw a need for CPR and first aid training that could help keep people alive before ambulances could get to the scene.

The fire department’s response to Redell’s own home, early in his career, is one that his family will never forget and laughs about, to this day. Michael and his brother Tony, as young boys, were playing with matches and accidentally set their bedroom on fire. While the damage was limited to a bed and a curtain, Redell was not happy, and the brothers knew they were in big trouble. Worst of all, they had to wait several hours, until Redell’s shift was over the next morning, to find out their punishment. A small, scorched mark that escaped new paint is still visible under the window in that room.

Firefighters work long shifts, and Michael remembers visiting his dad at the firehouse with Tony and his mom, sometimes taking a meal, but he didn’t appreciate the danger of his dad’s job until he was older.  He also eventually grew to understand the significance of Redell’s appointment as Chief, his leadership in the Masonic Lodge, and service at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in a variety of roles, including Deacon and Sunday School teacher. A 33rd Degree Mason, Redell received many awards, including the 2002 Martin Luther King, Jr. Award. All those things make Michael very proud of his dad, but his hope is that people will always remember Redell as he does. Said Michael, “Most everyone recalls him as the first Black fire chief, but people who knew him other than that, know what a good person he was. That’s what I will remember him by.”

Michael has worked for Paducah Power System for almost 28 years.