The Final Years...
Greenville Fire Department and moving on to new horizons
By Robert Rhoades, Senior Scribe
Part 1: The
It’s sort of hard to tell when I started thinking about doing something
else. Having spent 25 years of my life, which seemed like an
eternity, at one job was a pretty big task I thought. But I could
tell that my body was starting to fight back. It seemed that I
was having an expansion in my mid section which was not welcomed at
all. I was 30% deaf in my left ear and my bones and muscles
creaked every time I rolled up hose. Some guys can go on forever
and some can’t. I was in the latter. I unfortunately know
people who have stayed on the job and not had a very good memory of
most of it. And in some cases, people didn’t have a very good
memory of them.
One of the greatest things that I got to do was train other
people. We operated under the principal that there was no point
complaining about the help you got when calling another department if
you couldn’t go out and help them fix their problems. At one point, I
had held training classes of one sort or another in every department in
the county. It was neat to see people take a little bit of
knowledge and put it to use to make their department better and the
town safer. There are a lot of stories about those things.
Pitsburg saved their grain elevator one day because they developed a
method of using century old “fire cisterns” in the streets as their
initial water supply. All that training with mutual aid companies
paid off one day when the elevator caught fire. It took a while
but the building is still standing and that was 20 years ago.
I watched as Osgood designed a new engine during a training class using
NFPA standards that they were introduced to. The eventuality of
that was the next year they purchased that engine. Burkettsville
probably gets the award for stick-to-itiveness. It took them the
biggest part of 10 years but they developed a system for water shuttle
that eventually lowered their fire insurance rates from a 9 to a 6
which at that time was almost unheard of. Most of the departments
around them followed suit. And of course the best one was Chief
Bud Gray from Arcanum. He called me one day and said, “I’m not
very happy with our performance, come down here and fix it.” And
so we did. There were a lot of us teaching through the Montgomery
County Career Technology Center then. That’s being carried on now
through there and Sinclair Community College. I’m happy that it kept
So sometime around the beginning of 1992 I started to think about doing
something else. And one day I was at the State Fire Marshal’s
office in Reynoldsburg picking up supplies for a class I was teaching
and I found out that there was an opening in the Hazardous Materials
Bureau. After applying for the job and going through the
interview process I got the job. I went back to work for my old
boss, Willie Beaver. At that time, three former GFD people were
employed at SFM, Willie, Harvey Wilt and I. We followed Capt.
Cornelius O’Brien who had been Chief of the Fire Prevention
Bureau. Pretty good for a small department I’d say.
And so on July 2, 1992, 25 years to the day I was hired, I walked out
the door for the last time. The guys carried on a tradition
started when Harvey left. They opened the big doors and formed a
double line and the retiree has to walk out the corridor formed by the
men as they salute. Then your shift takes you home in the engine.
Kinda tough, that morning.
In a couple of weeks, I was off to the big city of Columbus for some
hazardous materials training. I saw more dynamite in the first
week there than I had seen in 25 years in Greenville. After about
8 weeks, I hit the road, preaching the gospel of “There’s bad stuff out
there that can hurt you” to local fire departments. Some became
believers and some didn’t All eventually did… it just took
some longer or a significant event, like a train wreck. We taught
a lot of people about Hazmat and responded to a lot of problems.
More about that later.