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CLINE: Be proud of all who fight fires

Sunday’s Community front told the story of 40 years of the Gwinnett County Fire Department. How it grew from one station in 1971 to its current size of 30 stations and 850 employees.

It was a nice piece about a department that has grown by leaps and bounds since the days when Gwinnett was protected by volunteer fire departments. It was that reference to volunteer firefighters that brought back memories for me.

My maternal grandfather was fire chief of a small-town volunteer fire department in central Illinois. He drove a gas truck as his main job and during the high school basketball season you’d see him at the main table as the team’s official scorer.

But if there was a fire in or around Greenview (population 850 or so), you’d see Don Lockhart in full fire uniform, leading the men who came to save the day, or at least your house.

I was young when Grandpa “Locky” passed, so I never got to ask questions about firefighting or hear stories about his harrowing adventures. Nor did I ever get a chance to ask how in the world a group of men could “volunteer” for such a dangerous job.

Even at that young age I picked up on the fact that his position commanded respect. And I thought it was pretty neat that my grandpa was a firefighter.

I think all young boys dream of being a firefighter at some point, and I was as enamored of the fire engines and the equipment as anyone. Thanks to my grandpa’s position, I got to ride on those fire engines during the Fourth of July parade, throwing candy to the kids not lucky enough to be sitting on the truck. And I tried on the helmets and even the much-too-large boots whenever I could.

It was all in good fun, but I can tell you I’m glad that the men and women of the Gwinnett Fire Department wear them for real. Pictures of the three Gwinnett firefighters who have died in the line of duty fighting fires accompanied Sunday’s story, underscoring the danger no little boy dreams of.

I live just down the road from Fire Station No. 26 in Sugar Hill, so I’m no stranger to hearing sirens or seeing emergency vehicles pass by en route to a call. And every time my thought’s the same: I hope everyone makes it OK.

“Firefighter” is still one of those iconic jobs that appeal to boys and men alike. I’m just proud that my grandfather and volunteers like him were part of that fraternity.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/toddcline.