Each fire department across this great country has a date that it was ‘founded.’ The date may very from a newly created or redistricted department to a department that has been answering calls for over 100 years. Nevertheless, since the creation of your department, traditions have been established and history has been developed.Some traditions may have came and went throughout time, and others may carry on for years to come. I believe each firefighter should know the history of his department, and it should be passed down to others.
After being reassigned to my department’s oldest fire station (that is still standing), I developed an interest into the history of our department. After seeing generic prints hanging on the walls that have no relation to the fire service nor our community, I knew things needed to change. Since 1941, no one has ever taken the initiative to change things because that’s the way it’s always been. Often times that is the attitude due to certain circumstances. While we haven’t completed the project yet, I plan on displaying pictures and items to show the history of our station. I have located several old photos of the station since it was built, and have travelled to the city archive to research several of the past apparatus that responded out of Station 2.
I recently set down with a past Chief of my department that has been retired for several years now. I was amazed by the wealth of knowledge that I was able to gain just by a few minutes of conversation. He came by the station and all it took was a few questions for him to start rambling out the history of my department and apparatus, nearly answering every question I asked. I came to realize that most of the information he was telling me isn’t written down anywhere. It’s information that I couldn’t go look up anywhere. Information that isn’t documented so that the next guy can find it.
Years ago, every single call that the fire department was documented by pen and paper in a log book. While in today’s time, we have let this tradition go to the wayside. From 1917 when the city was chartered, the firemen took the time to write down the weather for the day, who was working, what activities they accomplished, and the runs they responded to. With today’s technology, while most of this information is still gathered, it is done so with our computerized reporting software. I have flipped through the frayed pages of the old log books reading every little detail of the shift. It truly paints a picture in your mind about what the days were like, and it’s a shame this is something our predecessors may not be able to do.
Within the last 96 years my department, my department has responded to a variety of incidents as I’m sure yours has. A large number of employees have hired in, and some went on to retire while others were not as fortunate. We have had four firefighters who have passed away while on-duty at the department. The names and photos of the fallen should be remembered by every single one of our guys.
It wasn’t until recently that I was appointed to the Employee Recognition Committee. One of our first big projects was a Chief’s Award challenge coin/accommodation to be given to employees who go above and beyond to make a difference. This is hopefully the groundwork for a new tradition that will be carried on for years to come. With each coin that is awarded, a detailed letter of the incident/life-saving act is placed in a journal that is located in the Chief’s office. Years from now, the guys riding the rigs will be able to look back and read about the heroic acts that our firefighters have displayed while on the job. Read about the Chief’s Award in my post here, Beyond the Call of Duty.
The next project that our committee is currently in the process of completing is a Line of Duty Death Memorial. Our department did not have an official memorial to remember our four on-duty deaths. Actually, a lot of information was not even know by any of us until I recently did some research on the deaths. Of course, we knew the names of the fallen and the dates that they passed on, but many details were unknown. Are any relatives still in the area? Can we contact them? What were the details relating to the deaths? After a little effort, I was able to find out many details that were possibly uncovered for the first time since the incidents. Some of this information was made available through old newspaper articles, and some was found out by speaking with distant family members. Below is some of the information I have found about each of the firefighters who died on-duty at the department.
Lt. Ray Hicks
Lieutenant Ray Hicks hired in at the Kingsport Fire Department on January 19th, 1942. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant after being on the job four years. On April 29th, 1949, Hicks responded to a commercial structure fire in a local business on Market Street. The fire ended up spreading to multiple businesses that were located in attached building, and several firefighters were injured that day. Hicks was found in a room filled with smoke as crews repositioned hose lines and attempted to make a stop on the fire. This was the first Line of Duty Death in my department.
Asst. Chief Denver Lisenby
Assistant Chief Denver Lisenby had worked for the department for 24 years, and passed away on April 27th, 1972. Chief Lisenby was responding to a mutual aid assist in his Chief’s vehicle when he sustained an apparent heart attack that resulted in a motor vehicle accident. The Engine company responding on the call with Chief witnessed his vehicle run off the roadway, and were on-scene immediately to assist. He was later pronounced dead at the local hospital. He was a war veteran and flew nearly 75 successful missions before returning home and joining the fire department. He had received numerous awards and medals through the military for his service. Also, in January of 1966, Lisenby had sustained an apparent heart attack while operating on a fire scene. His brother firefighters, along with a citizen nearby, were able to successfully resuscitate him. He made a full recovery to return to the job following that incident. It was nearly 6 years later that he passed away while responding.
Captain Henry Harvel
Captain Henry Harvel had served for the Kingsport Fire Department for 25 years. He was hired on May 3rd, 1962. He was working on-shift at Station Four when he sustained an apparent heart attack. Harvel passed away on January 26, 1987, and he was 52 years old.
Captain Charles Berry
Captain Charles Berry came to work at the department in 1966. After promoting through the ranks, Captain Berry was killed in an apparatus accident on January 5th, 1988. The accident occurred while responding to a reported structure fire. He was serving as Captain of Engine 2 when he was killed, and had worked for the department for 21 years. I recently wrote an article, Remembering A Fallen Brother: Charles J. Berry, about him. His grandson now works for our department, and was only 10 years old when Captain Berry passed away.
Every department that has ever been in existence has a history. I believe that you owe it to the brothers and sisters who served before you to be familiar with the major events that have led up to the way things are performed today. Research some of the past incidents, read through the log books if your department has them, and make an attempt to document the duties you perform today. This is the information that will serve as a reference for years down the road when future employees try to familiarize themselves with who came before them. If your department has had on-duty or Line of Duty Deaths, be sure you know who they are, what happened, and possibly even carry on that relationship with the family members of the deceased. I now speak with the four families on a regular basis as we are still gathering information for the project.
The fact is that their loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens of your community…A sacrifice that we are all willing to make since the day we were sworn in.