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February 16, 2014

50 years of firefighting

(Continued)

KEESEVILLE —

“Ironically, it was Ash Wednesday,” King said.

It was quite a beginning to service with the fire department.

“We put our helmets back on and went to another assignment,” King said.

“We didn’t know if we wanted to go back or not,” said Cobb, “but we did.”

There are some common elements in many situations that firefighters face, King said. “A fire is a fire is a fire.”

At the same time, there has been a vast range to their experiences. Some have been happy, while others have been tragic.

There have been situations that “you try not to remember, but you do,” Cobb said.

TECHNOLOGY CHANGES

The two have also seen tremendous changes in technology during their 50 years of service.

At first, it was a requirement that firefighters live in the village, because they needed to be able to hear the siren.

And 50 years ago, the department had only one airpack. King recalls being told to ignore the smoke — “just get in and do the job.”

Now, it is a requirement that firefighters wear a self-contained breathing apparatus as they enter a smoky environment.

“It makes a lot of sense,” King said.

When he and Cobb began their service, a firefighter’s uniform consisted of a rubber raincoat, rubber boots and a steel helmet.

Many pieces of clothing were ruined by smoke damage. 

“There was no reimbursement,” King said. “Families had to bear the brunt.”

Now, firefighters have heat-resistant gear that provides better protection.

HARD TO RECRUIT

However, fire departments are also facing new challenges. It is harder to find volunteers, the men said, and many who do volunteer do not stay long.

King feels that the sense of commitment to the community that motivated his generation has declined and that fewer people are willing to take on the responsibility and effort of being firefighters.

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