10/27/08 — 50 years of fire

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50 years of fire

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 27, 2008 1:46 PM


nineteen-month-old Ashleigh Gardner tries on a firefighter helmet used by her dad, Patetown Fire Chief John Gardner, at the volunteer department's 50th anniversary celebration Sunday.

The alarm sounds.

Two cars have collided off Church of God Road.

"That's us," a man shouts. "Let's go."

None of those gathered around the Pate-town Volunteer Fire Department hesitate.

Sunday was supposed to be a celebration -- a chance to mark 50 years of the crew's service to its community.

But now there is work to do.

So some run to the back to throw on gear.

Others hurry toward the engines that had been on display for the better part of the afternoon, tossing out cups of sweet tea before climbing on board.

A young boy climbs down from one of them.

None of them seem to care that the party has been cut short.

Not when there is the possibility that lives are on the line.

Not when answering that call means another story to pass down to the next generation.


That particular alarm didn't sound 50 years ago.

In fact, former chief C.W. Turner remembers the days before the current firehouse existed.

A lot has changed since 1959, he said.

The truck they used then was a 1946 Chevrolet, a far cry from the half-dozen state-of-the-art vehicles that now grace their garage.

"I'm not jealous that they get to play with them," Turner said. "But it would be nice if I was 30 years younger so I could play with them, too."

But the technology is not the only thing that is different.

The types of calls coming in are, too.

"It used to be that most of the calls were old tobacco barn fires, stick fires. I remember during the curing season at one time, we got to the point where we would stay here through the weekend," Turner said. "We didn't have many automobile accidents at all and we didn't have many house fires. They were kind of isolated because, I guess, people were just more careful back then."

But some things have not changed over the last five decades, he said, watching some young boys running across the garage.

"Keeping young blood coming in all the time, that is what keeps a volunteer fire department going," he said. "You reach a point where your firefighting days are behind you, so it's good to see the next generation -- the ones we look forward to watching carry it on."

Turner has seen young boys like those running around Sunday in the firehouse before.

Many of them are now active members of the force.

Current Fire Chief John Gardner was, and is, one of them.

"For a lot of us who grew up around here, it wasn't if we were going to be it, it was when we were going to be in it," Gardner said.

The desire to serve his community was passed down from his father, George, Turner's one-time assistant chief.

So he takes "a lot of pride" in opening up the firehouse to the next generation, in passing along that desire to serve.

And to him, that is what Sunday's anniversary event was all about -- honoring those who came before by sharing their passion with those they hope would host the 100-year edition.

At least, before that call.