A sooty yellow fireman’s helmet hangs above deputy chief Alexander Schaeffer’s desk at the Edgartown fire station. All firefighting equipment has a mandatory 10-year expiration date, he said, and that helmet was retired after Mr. Schaeffer’s first 10 years on the job.

“It started white,” he said, picking it up and looking for any trace of what the helmet looked like when it was worn by a brand new volunteer firefighter.

“There’s a lot of history with it,” he added. “A lot of fires that helmet helped me through. It’s a keepsake of the hard work.”

In January, Mr. Schaeffer will start his next chapter at the Edgartown fire department when he becomes chief. This week, town selectmen unanimously approved the board of fire engineers’ recommendation that Mr. Schaeffer take over for current chief Peter Shemeth when he reaches the mandatory retirement age in January.

“I’m happy to be here,” Mr. Schaeffer said Wednesday morning in the office at the fire station. He and other firefighters had just returned from responding to a house fire in downtown Edgartown — the fire started in a closet and nobody was hurt.

As a young recruit to the department. — Courtesy Alexander Schaeffer

The town’s next fire chief will turn 40 in December. He was born on the Vineyard, in room two of the old Oak Bluffs hospital, and has lived mostly in Edgartown since. He graduated from the regional high school and worked in the building trades, including quite a few house projects, and then moved into auto mechanics. Knowing the inner structure of homes and how engines work is a benefit for a firefighter, he pointed out.

“That’s one of the amazing things with a volunteer fire department, is we have a department filled with specialists.” At a building fire someone with knowledge about the inner structure of a house is helpful, he said. Any knowledge about engines and mechanics is also a boon, considering all the red fire trucks parked outside the station.

Mr. Schaeffer joined the Edgartown fire department in 1996 at the encouragement of former assistant fire chief Scott Ellis. Firefighting is often a family tradition, Mr. Schaeffer said, but he didn’t have any family in the fire service. “I didn’t have any reason to be here other than Scott inquiring whether I could come on board.”

He signed up and joined Engine Four. Back then, when someone was recruited they often joined the recruiter’s truck. Mr. Schaeffer moved up to the rank of lieutenant, and also became an full-time EMT and trained to be a paramedic. Chief Shemeth took the top job in 2006, and when assistant chief Larry Thomas retired in 2007, Mr. Schaeffer became the department’s deputy. He has also served as the town ambulance coordinator.

“Both Larry and Peter had faith in me,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “I took that to heart.”

Over the last 20 years, Mr. Schaeffer has become well versed in the unique needs of a volunteer fire department in a rural area. Staffing a volunteer department is a community effort, from supportive families to employers who understand when a firefighter needs to leave work for an emergency.

There are 37 members on the roster, nine of whom are officers.

“It’s a delicate balance between state requirements, professionalism and skills, and recognizing the fact that we live in a community with a high cost of living,” Mr. Schaeffer said. Daytime fires are difficult, because responding to the fire is in direct competition with jobs that pay mortgages and bills.

“Today people left jobs to come [to the fire].” Except for him and the chief, “everyone that responded was leaving work.”

Mr. Schaeffer said he wants to continue the traditions of the department, while looking ahead to the future. He wants to look at developing a fire prevention branch of the department, he said, just after a resident dropped by to apply for a fire alarm inspection for a new home. The fire chief inspects any home in Edgartown that is sold, built or modified to make sure it’s up to code.

He is also considering adjusting the way the volunteer department is structured. “The volunteer service may not look the same as to what people are accustomed to. That makeup may look different . . . we hope to be as creative as possible.”

“We want to keep the volunteer service alive as long as we possibly can,” he added. In the future that might include more staff mixed in to maintain a reliable service. “It’s a delicate balance.”

The chief-elect said the camaraderie of the department and continuing its family dynamic is important to him.

“The worst situations on the worst days, those are things I try not to focus on.” Instead, he said, he focuses on how professional the department acts in those situations. “How compassionate the people are that work here.”

A day earlier, he said, he responded to an ambulance call and heard from one of the family members how comforting it was to have familiar people, fellow community members, arrive when they needed help.

“Firefighters are exposed to enormous emotional stressors,” Mr. Schaeffer said, and community and family support is important for them, too. “We all carry baggage,” he said. “Let’s keep it to carry-on size.”

Mr. Schaeffer’s support system includes his wife, Krystle, and his two children, a 12-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter, from a previous marriage.

Being a firefighter means that sometimes he has to bolt from a nice evening out, like the time recently when a fire call came in just as Mr. Schaeffer and his wife sat down to dinner at State Road Restaurant. “My wife was able to have a nice dinner by herself,” he said.

He and the rest of the department also look at the town and day-to-day life differently. Maps of the town water system hang on his wall — what is more important to a firefighter than water, after all. He also pulled up an app on his phone that shows a map of town dotted with the location of fire hydrants and propane tanks.

Firefighters always park facing toward the town, he said, and back into spaces so they can make quick getaways if they need to get to a fire. Every time Mr. Schaeffer pulls into a parking space, “I’m looking how quickly I can get out of it.” Chief Shemeth had walked through the office a few minutes earlier, in full gear, coming back from the downtown fire.

“He took a chance on me, having me into the office,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “I hope that I can repay that.”

The Shemeth tradition at the fire department will continue. Chief Shemeth’s daughter Kara is a lieutenant with Engine 4. And both his sons in law are firefighter/EMTs with the department.

Mr. Schaeffer said he hopes his own kids one day feel a call to serve in some capacity.

Chief Shemeth has served for more than 40 years with the department. “I can only imagine how many times he helped someone with a fire alarm in the middle of the night,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “He always strived to go the extra mile...he wouldn’t just mitigate the hazard, but would provide as much service as he could. I want to see that continue.”