NORTH -- A man known to firefighters for the past half century will now be known to those who follow in the years to come as the North fire station was named in honor of its senior member.
The newly opened North facility was named after John I. Salley during an open house ceremony on Father's Day.
Having served the North community as a firefighter since the height of the Korean War, Salley said he was taken by complete surprise when the idea was revealed the new facility would be named in his honor.
"I can't put it in words," Salley said. "That was a shock when they told me. I thought they would give me a plaque or something."
Bigger than a plaque, the new North facility, which came on-line in mid-April, boasts 7,400 square feet comprising two offices, a training room that seats 30, shower and restroom facilities, and five bays accessed by electric overhead doors.
"Now they (firefighters) can hit the button then go about their business and get things going and be warming up the trucks after deciding which units are required," North Fire Chief Greg Gambrell said.
There were times, Salley said, when there wasn't a decision to be made on which vehicle to use.
While today's fleet includes six emergency vehicles, Salley remembers a time when firefighters used the only emergency vehicle available -- the Silver Streak, a Model A with chrome bumpers known more for its color than road-handling prowess.
"When they painted the town's water tank, they used that paint to paint the fire truck," Salley said. "That's why we called it the Silver Streak."
Beside having a multivehicle fleet, the North facility features almost five times the square footage previously available in the Town Hall building.
There is now room for records and files. A satellite hook-up beams in-depth life-saving courses into the training room 16 hours a day, every day. North Fire Capt. Christopher Livingston said firefighters can now further their training without leaving town.
"It's an in-house training that's available to the personnel," Livingston said. "We plan to offer the training to the personnel about two or three times a year."
The 67-year-old namesake of the new fire station said he can recall a time when special training and emergency equipment were a bare minimum. Sometimes, there was no equipment to be had.
"If there wasn't anybody in the (burning) house, we wouldn't go in," Salley said. "But if there was somebody in there, we'd hold a rag over our mouth and go in."
Times have changed in Salley's 51 years as a North firefighter. Equipment has become available, life-saving techniques studied to a science. And with those changing times, Salley has changed with them.
"Yes sir I'm certified to put on the bunker gear," Salley said. "But we got them young guys out here so I drive the tanker, get these guys going."
"He's capable of doing everything that we all do," Gambrell said. "If we're in a position where we need him, he's certified to do just about everything we do, probably more."
With the new facility on-line and Salley answering roll call, North Mayor Bruce Buckheister said the North Fire Department can hold its own against any other fire-fighting entity.
"I think we have one of the better fire departments in the county if not the state," Buckheister said. "And thanks to John I., our response time is minimal. He has the trucks running and waiting when we have an alarm."
In response, Salley said he doesn't have plans for going anywhere -- except on a call.
"Oh, no, unless they run me off or I can't go to calls," Salley said. "If my health is good, I'll be right here as far as I know."