Firefighter spoke softly, but earned everyone's respect

Ashley Branch
@PensacolaNewsJournal.com

James "Andy" Anderson will likely be remembered for his actions and not his words.

Mr. Anderson, who served 20 years as a firefighter in Milton, died Sept. 24 of cancer. He was 48.

"He would hate for me to say this, but to me Andy Anderson was an unsung American hero," said Bruce Gilliard, assistant fire chief with Whiting Field.

Gilliard met Mr. Anderson when he moved to Milton with the Navy and the two worked for Whiting Field Fire Department. Mr. Anderson also worked with Skyline Fire and Rescue, where he served as assistant fire chief for 14 years.

Gilliard said he was admired and well-liked among firefighters at both stations and was instrumental in getting the stations to work together.

"There wasn't a fireman out there that didn't know when Andy was working they were in good hands," he said. "He loved firefighting and, in return, people loved Andy."

Michele Diamond, fire captain at Skyline Fire and Rescue, said Mr. Anderson was a calm man who knew how to solve a problem without raising his voice. Even in the most tense rescue situations, Diamond said Mr. Anderson remained cool.

The two shared a love of NASCAR racing and often made it a competition between all of the firefighters at the station. Mr. Anderson pulled for Jeff Gordon, and Diamond pulled for Rusty Wallace.

"If you ever wanted to know what happened in a race, you just called Andy," Diamond said.

She said although he didn't usually get caught up in firehouse pranks, Mr. Anderson was funny and would often walk through a room of people cutting up, drop a joke in the middle and keep going.

"He was famous for his one-liners," Diamond said.

It was one line that landed him Billye Anderson, his wife of 12 years. Anderson worked as a cashier at a grocery store and Mr. Anderson always came through her line. One day he came in, bought a bunch of snacks and asked her to join him at a party.

She said at the time she didn't want to date anyone, but it wasn't long before the two were married.

Billye Anderson said when she was dating Mr. Anderson, he wasn't much of a talker. Once she asked him about his family. He was one of nine children and told her about each of his siblings.

Afterward he was surprised that he had talked so much.

"He said `I don't think I've ever told all of that to anyone,' " she said. "He never had a lot to say, but when he did, you listened to it."

Anderson said her husband was an "angel" who won her over with his kind way toward her and her children. She said he helped each of her children buy their first cars and often drove her to visit her son who was away in the military.

"We never had to worry about anything," Anderson said. "We were the most important priority in his life."

James "Andy" Anderson
BORN: May 16,1955.

DIED: Sept. 24, 2003.

HOMETOWN: Milton.

REMEMBERED AS: Mr. Anderson was a quiet man who was highly respected by the firefighters who knew and worked with him. His family could always count on him to be their protector.

Services:1 p.m. today at Pine Terrace Baptist Church on Pine Blossom Road. Burial will follow in the Serenity Gardens Cemetery with full firefighter honors.