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Senior Scribes Spotlight

Editor’s Note: County News Online is a fundraising project of the Senior Scribes Scholarship Fund. As such, Senior Scribes will be offering stories and photos on the interesting events in their lives and the life of Darke County. Bob Rhoades, a retired Greenville firefighter, is the first to offer a little history. He is an active Blogger, with two sites: Greenville Fire Department and Related Stories  and Greenville School District - Hope you enjoy.

January 31, 2011
The Early Days
By Bob Rhoades

My first day as a firefighter was July 2, 1967.   We’ll call it the early days.  I heard stories about the iron firemen, real smoke eaters, guys with leather skin and lungs to match.  I’m not sure how much of that was true, but I do know that breathing a lot of that into your lungs hurt a lot after the fact, like someone was sitting on your chest.

A lot of us “new guys” decided that there had to be a better way and tried to get one of the Air Packs that we had, there were only 5 of them in the beginning and guys scrambled for them.  They were packed away in large suitcases and either carried on the running boards or in a cabinet, not like they are now, mounted in the jump seats, ready to go.

After I had been there for a month, I was sent to Station 2 on Gray Ave to work.  Reason: the fair!  We made it to the last day, Friday about 10 AM, the fire phone rang and Ralph Mong, my partner for the week, answered it.  He listened while Station 1 talked to the caller. 

He hung up, turned around and said, “Well you wanted to go to the fair, get in the truck”, my first time driving a fire apparatus on a run, quite memorable.  Especially onto the fairgrounds where, upon hearing the siren, people would turn and look at us as if to say, What’s with all the noise?  They wouldn’t move.  At any rate we made it to the west end of the Coliseum where we saw the last of what was a large tent, fall to the ground.  There we were the most senior man on the department and the most junior watching a pile of tent smolder in the sawdust.  Could have been worse and it was out when Station 1 got there, that’s what mattered.

Later that year, to augment our OJT, two of us were sent to Ohio Fire School.  At that time, it was held at The Ohio State University and the Columbus Fire Academy with various Columbus instructors handling our instruction.  Now it’s at Bowling Green twice a year.  What a deal and it was obvious this was the real deal.  One of the instructors was a fellow named Jack Pyle.  He had been one of those iron firemen and when he told you something, you knew it was gospel.  Many of us at Greenville had the good fortune to have been trained by old Jack.  Years later I ran into him again at the State Fire Marshal’s office where he was an assistant chief in the Arson Bureau and one of the best polygraphers in the state.

The “early days” continued up until about 1972 when the city purchased Engine 2, a Mack Fire Truck.  People could actually sit down, get their gear on and be ready to fight fire, when there were enough guys there.  But it was a start and it was a good thing to build on.  The City paid $42,000 for that engine and in a few weeks it will be retired.  Guess we got our money’s worth out of that.

Soon after, we got a new chief too.  We started weekly training with lesson plans.  Lots of things started falling into place.  More breathing apparatus, better bunker gear, better helmets and for the first time firefighter gloves developed for fighting fires.  We donned Nomex hoods to keep our ears from being burned off.  What a concept! 

Probably the one biggest event affecting the fire service in the whole Miami Valley was the beginning of the Fire Science program at Sinclair Community College.  Imagine that, an associate’s degree in fire science.  At one point in time over half of our department was enrolled there.  We all had to trade time to make sure that the station was covered; it was a lot of time away from home but worth it in the end.  It was good to know that we could put our heads together and come up with an answer when we were in a tight spot.  But that wasn’t really in the early years. 

Lots of other things happened in the learning evolution and some weren’t nice.  My second year was definitely a bad year.  We had two fatal fires within one week.  At that time there hadn’t been a fatal for 30 years.  One was a woman asleep when the food cooking directly below her caught fire.  She probably never knew it and the other a week before was very bazaar.  With heavy fire showing, neighbors reported that as late as it was, the elderly woman had to be in the house.  It was a bit before we found her, we discovered in the smoke filled darkness a room full of stuffed animals, which, In the dark, were indiscernible from small children.  Next was a light, with movement as we crawled through the smoke.  When I had my face right in the light it was recognizable… Johnny Carson.  We moved on.  Eventually the poor soul was found on the back porch.

Within months, we fought a major fire at Greenville Manufacturing and Ed Cornell’s Clothing Store.  There were many more.   Thank the lord, the early years got over.  My last day was July 2, 1992 25 years to the day.  Next more on the middle years.


 
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