Historical Society recognizes roles of police, firefightersPublished 12:23pm Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Hartselle Historical Society rolled out the red carpet for the city’s policemen and fire fighters Monday night, recognizing their personnel, past and present, with a Down Memory Lane Depot Days salute.
The program, which was staged in the Fine Arts Center, traced the history of the two departments from the early days to present.
Memorabilia depicting the work of the city’s police officers and fire fighters through the years was of special interest to viewers. Displays included vintage photographs and old newspaper clippings, hand tools and equipment and personal gear. Two of the items that stood out were a pair of leg irons loaned by former Police Chief John Pat Orr and the steel bell that was attached to “Granny,” the city’s 1952 model fire engine, which was loaned by former Fire Chief Rickey Joe Smith.
An informative, interesting and sometimes comical program followed in the auditorium. It featured four speakers with close personal ties to the police and fire departments of years past.
Robert Peck told about how his family’s furniture store and funeral home, then located on Main Street, served as a point of after-hours contact for both law enforcement and fire protection.
“The police had a desk and phone in the lobby of the funeral home,” Peck recalled. “When the on-duty policeman was away, anyone who was handy could answer the phone. “After 9 p.m. my dad, Elliotte Peck, went home but remained on call for ambulance service. If an emergency occurred and a call for the ambulance was received, the policeman on night duty would crank the ambulance and open the garage door so it would be ready to go when my dad arrived.”
Volunteer fire fighters also used the funeral home as a communications center.
“The fire alarm was located on the facing of the funeral home,” Peck said. “It was unattended and anyone who was within hearing distance when it rang could answer the call. The phone had a button that could be pushed to trigger a fire bell and siren, both of which were located on the town’s water tank at Chestnut and Hickory Streets.”
Bob Kyker related some of his boyhood experiences as the son of the town’s longest-serving police chief, W.L. “Willie” Kyker, who served in that position for 23 years.
“Dad was the only man I know who was able to read his own obituary,” Kyker noted. ”He was serving in the Army in Pearl Harbor when war broke out. His family received a telegram informing them that he was missing in action. Several days passed before a follow-up telegram arrived to announce that he was alive and well. In the meantime, The Decatur Daily had published his obituary and extolled his legacy as a brave young man who gave his life for his country.”
“After the war, my parents decided they wanted to be farmers and bought a 40-acre farm south of town.” They weren’t very good at it though and soon gave up the idea. My mom said they raised the fattest boll weevils and tallest Johnson grass in Morgan County.”
“When my brother and I grew up in the 1950s the police department had an atmosphere kinda like Mayberry,” Kyker pointed out. “We knew we had to behave. If we got into trouble, dad would be the first one to know about it.
“One of the things I remember he told us was: ‘Pay attention to the mistakes of others because you’ll never live long enough to make them yourselves.’”
Jerry Putman related some of his experiences as a volunteer fire fighter for 53 years, beginning at age 16.
“In 1954, the department had four full-time firemen, working 24 hours on and 24 hours off,” Putman said.
“A big siren was located on the water tank and when it sounded you looked for smoke to locate the fire. If that didn’t work, you’d look for a water trail on the streets.
“We didn’t have much equipment. Rule one was: if you see smoke, put water on it. We inhaled the smoke and didn’t think a lot about it.”
“Nowadays, the equipment is much better and you go to college to learn how to do your job.”
Frances Holt, the daughter of a former volunteer fire fighter, recalled when the town purchased a state-of-the-art fire truck.
“I was in the sixth grade in 1952 when the town bought “Granny,” a 1952 fire engine, for $9,000. It was a grand old fire engine and I had the opportunity to ride on it when it arrived. We went all over town blowing its siren and ringing its bell. It was used for many years to transport Santa at Christmas parades.”
Police Chief Ron Puckett and Fire Chief Steve Shelton closed the program with updates on equipment and personnel and expressed thanks to the community for its support.
Both departments received honor plaques from Hartselle Historical Society.
Lee Greene Jr. served as emcee.