June is the first month in over 600 that Bob Smith will not be "ready to roll" when the fire alarm drops.
Smith, who retired as Barnesville’s fire chief on May 31st, and fellow volunteer Bobby Jefferis were appointed to the Barnesville Fire Department on May 5, 1968, 50 years ago.
"There were two vacancies at that time and we were on the list of possible members. We received the most votes from the volunteers," Smith said. "You were voted in by the other members."
Raymond Campbell was fire chief at that time. Other veteran members of the squad were Fred Schradel, Harold Hall, Claude Bishop, Bernard Lippert and Herman Chapman among others.
Members were paid $2 per call regardless how long it took to extinguish the fire! Equipment at that time consisted of just a few pieces including an American LaFrance ladder truck and a Seagraves engine, all housed in the city building and adjacent garage.
Smith was a member of the Barnesville Police Department before he joined the fire department. The U.S. Army Engineers veteran worked a variety of jobs over the years including road construction, general construction and as a heavy equipment operator. With the job changes that came through the years, Smith said he didn’t expect to be with the department for 50 years.
During the middle years fire chiefs included Bainard Murphy and Harold "Shorty" Arnold. Smith smiled as he rolled off the names of fellow volunteers and lifelong friends including Tom Murphy, Jackie Huntsman, Jerry Burkhart, Fizz Grear, Bill Gibson and Don Anderson.
"The downtown fire of Barnesville Dry Cleaning in the late 60s and the old garment factory/Kirk’s furniture warehouse on S. Gardner Street in 1974 were the most memorable fires," the chief reminisced.
The department moved from the municipal building to the new fire station on E. Church Street in 1978. Two years later, the EMS building was added completing the current structure.
Smith rose in the ranks of the department. He was promoted to captain in February 1976 and moved into the assistant chief position under "Shorty" Arnold in February 1989. Finally, he became fire chief in June 1999 upon Arnold’s retirement.
On the question of harmony at home with his beloved wife Sandy, Smith noted fires and emergencies tended to occur at the inopportune times including his daughter’s wedding reception.
"As I loaded my vehicle after the reception, a U.S. Military C47 aircraft made an emergency landing at Barnesville-Bradfield Airport. Off I went and Sandy was left to finish up."
Several family gatherings were also interrupted by an alarm drop, Smith noted.
Despite this, his wife was a real trooper. She, her good friend Jean Hall, and several others including Sandy Chambers, Marjorie Jones and Judy Gibson formed a ladies’ auxiliary that helped raise funds and support for the department for many years.
Smith’s wife gave him her full support right up until her passing two years ago following a courageous battle with cancer.
As Smith steps down, the department is well equipped with two engines, a ladder truck, one tanker, a brush truck, boat, four-wheeler, three emergency squads and two cars. The department’s service area is 83 square miles covering five townships.
The EMS was independent of the fire department initially but eventually folded into the department. While volunteers man the fire department, EMS is staffed 24/7 by paid employees. Two EMTs are on staff working either 16- or 24-hour shifts. Fire volunteers are now paid $12 per hour while on calls.
As his retirement neared, department members, friends and families staged a surprise party at the station Sunday, May 20th. And Mayor Dale Bunting and village council feted Smith at his last council meeting declaring May 31 in Barnesville as "Chief Bob Smith Day". His fire helmet was also retired and given to him as a parting gift by the village.
In Smith’s mind, none of this would have been possible without the support of Barnesville, Warren Township and the community at large. "This community has given us anything we’ve asked for. They have supported us 100% at all times."
Tim Hall, assistant chief, assumed the reigns on June 1 having spent the past year preparing for the change.
Hall’s family has a long history with the local VFD. His grandfather Harold G. Hall and father, Gary, both served on the Barnesville department and his son is currently a member of the Cumberland Trail Department.
As for Smith, he intends to spend time traveling and enjoying the company of his family. His daughter lives in Columbus and his son in Valley Grove.