Wednesday, July 22, 2015

TOP STORY >> Book fires up old memories

Leader staffwriter

Mundane, mournful, memorable, miraculous — words that describe the mammoth undertaking of chronicling the first 20 years of the Jacksonville Fire Department’s history.
Jacksonville Alderman Barbara Mashburn culled through piles of department logs to create the 970-page behemoth that is being sold as a fundraiser for the fire department.

May 27, 1947 – Not much doin’ for the last 24 hours.

Mashburn, who is actively involved in numerous historical projects like saving the city’s  long-gone train depot, the town’s first jail and trying to keep alive a stretch of historical buildings on First Street, is already at work on a second volume for the fire department.
The book is reminiscent of a captain’s log with its dates and times.

Mashburn kept all the slang, colloquiums and misspellings as they appeared in the logs. “It just made it more authentic,” the alderman said.

June 10, 1947 – Burk said in call for a man to come to Ballard office an demonstrate fire truck to some men so Fisher wanted to go, so he went, and it was a fire truck he had never seen before, but he said he made out allright.

The department was officially created in 1947 with one full-time paid employee, the chief. He received $315 a month. All other firefighters were considered volunteers, but the 1947 ordinance allowed them to be paid $2.50 for each fire attended and $1 per drill.

Even though 1947 is listed as the creation, by ordinance, of the department, fire protection for the city actually started six years earlier.
In her book, Mashburn says Jacksonville had a population of just 100 in 1941, but two fire stations because of the Arkansas Ordnance Plant. The plant employed more people than there were residents in Jacksonville at the time.

June 15, 1947 – Drove ford pumper over area to build up battery. Generator is not working too good and battery was down when we came on duty.

Firefighters numbered 85 at the time and stayed busy with the numerous fires that broke out at the ordnance plant. The fire trucks were green.

Once the war was over, the department dropped down to just five full-time members and that’s when the city took over the responsibility.

June 25, 1947 – Drove Chev. Truck to limber up motor.

H.S. McClung was named the first chief in 1949 and died a year later. This is where the mourning came in. Surprisingly, his death and funeral were not mentioned in the logs, Mashburn said.

She came up with the idea of the book after a tour of the fire stations. “The twin beds look like the old beds that used to be in the Children’s Hospital. All the furnishings were mix and match, not a set anywhere.”

She said the city is very good at providing money to keep the fire trucks and ambulances up to par and firefighters with necessary equipment and protection. “When people think about the fire department, that’s what they think about.”

In the 2015 State of the City report, current Fire Chief Alan Laughy said, “We need at least two fire engines as they are 15 and 19 years old. The average service life of a frontline engine with JFD’s call volume is eight to 10 years. We’ve also struggled with maintenance issues with this older fleet. In the first 120 days of 2014, for example, there were only three days when a vehicle was not needing repairs.”

July 21, 1947 – Abbott went too give Juels a blood transfuseun, all duties completed.

Mashburn said, when the city built the fire station on Redmond Road, the facility was top notch, “but I don’t think we had money to furnish it.”

With the book, that sells for about $40, including tax, Mashburn is hoping to create a fund for the firefighters to improve their living conditions.

The book is available through the fire department and will be at area bookstores in August.

December 24, 1947 – Goose cooked. Cook worked 11-7 every body happy.

The book also includes a conversation with Wayman Schmitt, who became one of the department’s longest-serving chiefs with a tenure running from 1961 to 1980. The chief admits he had no thoughts about becoming a firefighter, let alone the chief.
But he joined as a volunteer in January 1959 and became a regular firefighter four months later.

November 25, 1950 – SIREN BLOWED, 6:30 p.m. Fire Cafeteria Building in ord. plant caused from burning grass, damage $25.00.

Recalling the journey, Schmitt said, “I had a grocery store. I wasn’t interested in being a fireman. But they had a situation where a lot of firemen quit, and were using volunteer fireman. They asked me to be one, so I said, ‘All right, if I’m not busy.’ The first few times the siren went off, I was busy waiting on customers and what can you do?”

He continued, “but the next time it went for a grass fire, I went and helped them put it out. And it really excited me; after that I was real gung ho.”

June 1, 1951 Mr. Tuckers Rt1 House Burnt Up.

The book also recounts firefighter Wilbur Smart’s rescue of three children from a burning home. It was a situation filled with emotions: Joy for the kids who were saved and sadness for the dad who died trying to save them before the firefighter arrived.

For Smart’s actions, which resulted in the saving of lives without regard for his own safety, the man who would become chief in 1980 was the first in the department to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Firefighter Charles Van Nos-trand also received the medal for his actions that day.

The medal has since been renamed the Wilbur Dean Smart Medal of Honor.

April 1, 1966 – Ramada Inn kid set Kleenex dispenser on fire.

In 2014, the Jacksonville Fire Department had 3,752 fire runs, about 10 a day, and another 3,541 ambulance or EMT calls, also about 10 a day.

The department is operating this year on a budget of about $4.8 million a year, a far cry from 1952 when the March expense report listed $770 for fireman salaries, $34 for volunteer firemen, $10.46 for gas and oil, $5.85 for battery chargin, brake fluid, $7.19 for soap, mops, paint and lye, $11 for telephone and $2.50 repair on Ford pumper.