Serves because he loves it
For over 50 years, Brodie Akins has been a fireman. He says, "It gets in your blood. I know I'm getting old and ought to go home, but if I was at home and heard that siren go off, I've got enough old fire hound in me, I want to go see what's going on. As long as I can get around, I'm going to keep going." And that's just what he's been doing. For 46 of those years he has been Chief of the Carthage Fire Department.
The original fire station was located under the water tower by the old jail. At that time it was on a dead-end street and had two apparatus bays with a bedroom, bathroom and meeting room upstairs. The first fire truck was a 1932 American LeFrance that held 150 gallons of water. When Akins joined the department in February of 1960, the CFD had three fire trucks--a '45 and a '51 Ford and a '54 Chevrolet station wagon that was used as an emergency vehicle. "We also had a boat that had drags on it because we used to have a lot of drownings around here, especially in the river around the 4th of July. I remember that was a busy day for us," says Akins. In 1964, a new station was built at the present site--the old station was torn down, the water tower was moved over, and the street was opened to N. St. Mary.
Chief Akins says he's seen a lot of changes through the years. "Before we had pagers, when a call would come in at the station, they'd call the operator and tell her where the fire was. When the firemen heard the siren go off, they would pick up the telephone, the operator would say 'number please,' and they'd ask where the fire was. I remember when we were doing that we always had a good turnout because you could hear that old siren for miles. That's the same siren we have now--it's been blowing since the 1930's. Later, when we got dialed phones, the firemen knew to let the phone ring three times before they would pick up in order to give everybody time to get to the phone. Their wives would then call some of the other volunteers to get the word out."
The fire station is now staffed with paid firemen round-the-clock to receive calls. "Used to when a little lady would call in and tell that her smoke alarm was going off and she couldn't stop it, she'd want somebody to come out and fix it for her. A fireman couldn't leave the station because he was by himself, so he'd have to page it out and the whole fire department would go and take care of it. Now we don't have to do that," says Chief Akins. " We've been very fortunate to have good City Managers like Charles Thomas and Brenda Samford that have supported our efforts and made it possible to get the paid staff that we need."
Because Carthage is surrounded by natural gas refineries, the chances of an explosion run pretty high. One such incident occurred at a plant on north Highway 79 about two years ago. According to Chief Akins, "Any time you go to a refinery, there's always a potential for someone to get hurt or killed quick. We've been lucky with some of the things we've been to. I tell those boys, you better be on your toes and know what you're doing. Back in 1965, we had a fire at one of the plants that we thought would just take a little foam to snuff it out. Sure enough, when we got there a high pressure valve had been burned into and the fireworks started. I remember climbing over the pipes going in there, but don't remember climbing over them on the way out!" Akins went on to recall, "Probably the biggest incident happened in 1968 on the downtown square right where the First State Bank is now. There was a service station on the corner, a donut shop, an auto parts store, a little insurance office and an old hotel right there. Right after lunch a big propane truck pulled up. It had just loaded out on the Henderson highway--that was before the loop was built. While he was waiting on the light to change, the clapper valve under the propane tank fell, and when it did, raw propane shot out from under that truck. He jumped out a hollering--the two women in the donut shop ran out the back door--people went to scattering! Of course, when that propane went thru the door of the donut shop, it hit those burners and lit off. It was like one giant blow torch. We lost five buildings and nine automobiles, but nobody was hurt."
"I've seen a lot of things since I've been here--just when you think something is routine, you find out it's not. Most of the volunteers have been in this a long time. You just don't do it a couple years and quit. Bob Davis, Jimmy Turner, and me are old members, and we've seen a little bit of it all. It's a good group of people, and it's a brotherhood for us. We don't take just anybody in our department. When they come down here, we check 'em out good. I don't want somebody prowling around my house that can't be trusted. When I broke my hip about 5:00 one morning, there were three firemen at the door before the ambulance got there. We know we're gonna take care of each other in a fire. Everything has changed a lot, but everything is still fun. Like I said before, it gets in your blood. You go, but you wanna go back home too."