The longest-serving fire chief in Georgia's history passed away April 16 after providing 58 years of leadership and inspiration to the Rochelle Volunteer Fire Department.
Chief David Guy Fitzgerald became chief in 1946 after returning from World War II, back when local firefighters fought fires in their street clothes, said Assistant Chief Herman Greene. And while the chief saw some major changes during his tenure, such as the rise of PPE, many other things stayed the same at the small department. Throughout the chief's time there, he only had three different fire trucks.
Fitzgerald was officially recognized as the longest-serving fire chief in Georgia last year by the state's House of Representatives in House Resolution 1463, which commends him for his many years of faithful and selfless service.
Greene said Fitzgerald remained active even after going through open heart surgery two years ago, but he recently suffered a heart attack and a stroke, and died just a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday. "He would have been fire chief as long as he was breathing," Greene said.
Greene described Fitzgerald as a quiet chief who led by example. "He was just an easy going type fellow and a good leader," the assistant chief said.
Fitzgerald didn't have any children of his own and became a father and grandfather figure to the younger members of the department, said Greene, who served under the chief for 24 years and whose son grew up around him. "We were like his extended family. I didn't know anybody that didn't love him," Greene said.
Fitzgerald and his wife of 68 years, Imogene, operated a local service station for 41 years until they retired. The chief's wife told Greene that whenever she saw Fitzgerald head out the door, she knew if he was going to a fire because he wouldn't look back.
Greene said the firefighters' greatest memories of their chief are of just being around him, and how he was always telling jokes. During visitation, firefighters agreed that Fitzgerald would have approved of them cracking a few jokes, and said he would have been embarrassed by all the wonderful things said about him.
"We loved him and we're going to miss him," Greene said.
The Rochelle Volunteer Fire Department serves a community of under 8,000 and has 20 active members. They run about 55 calls per year.
Services were held Monday, April 19 at Morningside Cemetery, attended by the Laurens County Fire Department Honor Guard and the Centerville Fire Department Pipes and Drum Corps.