Michigan Firefighter Marks 50 Years of Service

March 25, 2013
Having joined the fire service in 1963, a Ludington firefighter says he appreciates the interaction and camaraderie with fellow firefighters most of all.

In 1993, Jerry Chancellor, who was then Fountain’s fire chief, bumped into one of the firefighters who had participated in fighting Ludington’s fatal fire that claimed nine lives. The firefighter told Jerry he didn’t think he was cut out to be a firefighter because after the fatal fire, he went home and cried.

“I told him it’s OK for a firefighter to cry,” Chancellor said. “That firefighter is still in the fire service.”

That kind of interaction, camaraderie — those are the things that Chancellor said stick with him after 50 years as a firefighter.

He can tell you about the spectacular fires, the visually stunning ones, and the couple where people have died, but it’s the people he’s met along the way who have made an impression on him.

Fountain firefighters celebrated the 50th anniversary of Chancellor joining the department Friday, March 8.

It was March 8, 1963 when Chancellor joined the volunteer department in Fountain. He had just graduated from Mason County Eastern High School.

“It was a completely different world for us 50 years ago,” Chancellor said.

Changing times

In 1963 the Fountain Fire Department was based out of a two-bay barn with a third bay as an addition. They had three trucks — a 1948 Ford, a home-built tanker and an Army surplus Jeep.

The turnout gear consisted of a long fireproof raincoat-style coat, hip or knee boots and a helmet. No radios, no tags for checking in or out of a fire scene, no fire-proof gloves or pants.

Chancellor’s primary reason for joining the department?

“The same reason anybody else gives, to help out their neighbors,” Chancellor said.

When he first joined the Fountain Fire Department, the chief was Wally Blohm. There was some training back then. Chancellor said firefighters started going to Lansing for training back in the 1940s.

“We’ve always been a well-trained department,” Chancellor said, although he noted that when he started a lot of the training was done in-house.

There were 20 firefighters who responded primarily to fires.

“We just did fires,” Chancellor said. “Now 75 percent of our calls are medical calls.”

The fire department was a tight-knit group.

“Our meetings were the second meeting of the month, like they are now,” Chancellor said. “They were usually very short and the card game afterwards was very long.”

He said one thing has not changed in 50 years.

“Today the camaraderie in the fire service is just as important as it was 50 years ago,” Chancellor said.

Many of the firefighters were on a somewhat successful Fountain Merchants softball team.

“There were times when firefighters would show up at a fire in their softball uniforms,” Chancellor said.

He recalled that the team got second place pretty much every year and possibly a championship one year.

Chancellor still is an active part of the fire department, although he said he prefers to just drive the trucks rather than get out there and fight fires hands-on. He said living two blocks from the department, he’s usually the first one there for a call.

“I’m not as excited about blowing the siren as I was at one time,” Chancellor said. “We’ve got capable people to do it right now and I’m confident they’re able to handle the situation.”

He said he was pleased by the celebration they had a couple weeks ago. The Fountain Fire Auxiliary and a few retired firefighters showed up to enjoy some cake and swap stories.

“I appreciate that the people appreciate what I’ve done,” Chancellor said.

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