Two men started serving the Howe community as fire fighters a month apart, forty years ago.
Tom Reid became a fire fighter in February, 1974.
In March of that year, Larry Watson joined the department.
“I was a second generation fireman,” Watson said. “My dad was on the Howe Fire Department and I watched him.”
Watson recalled having a fire phone in the house that would ring to call the firemen out. “It would ring in each house. He would answer, listen and then run to the station,” Watson said, remembering his father’s service. “It made me feel he was helping the community and I wanted to do that, also.”
Reid also followed in his dad’s footsteps. “When they approached me, they were bringing five new members on as auxiliary,” Reid said. He admitted to not being too interested at first. “I came to the meeting and decided to give it a try. I went to my first fire.” Then he was hooked.
When both men started, the department had its new tanker on order to arrive in 1975. That tanker is now the oldest truck in the department, and they are working to get a new one.
Along with new trucks over the years, the men agreed that the biggest change has been in the training. “There’s a lot more,” Reid acknowledged.
“The safety aspect has increased,” Watson added. He recalled riding on the back of the trucks to fires and men “running into the fires.” The equipment has gotten better. “We had hip boots instead of the bunker pants,” Watson noted. He remembered the helmets being “thin.”
Both noted that the way fires are fought has changed over the years as tools and techniques have advanced. “Communications are different, too,” Watson said, with more individual communication at fires. He also noted that, in the past, fire fighters could be at a fire, and then just go home when they wanted to.
Both men have served in various roles in the department. Reid has been the director several times. Watson has been president of the organization, as well as Captain, Assistant Chief and Chief.
While the larger events, such as the recent fire at the mushroom farm, stand out in their memories, they also noted that a lot of their work has been dealing with, and being part of, the community. “You have to go to someone’s house or to an accident, and you know them. It can be real personal,” Watson said. He added that, at those times, the department is “really professional” in getting the job done first.
Reid and Watson encourage others to look at the fire department as a way to get involved with and to help the community. “We’re always looking for new firemen, especially on the first responder side,” Watson said. First responders are called out on medical runs.
One of the changes with the addition of the first responders has been the members of the department are together more often. The department as a whole has a tighter bond that makes it feel more like a family.
“The department is made up of a lot of second, third, even fourth generation firemen,” Watson said. That, he feels, is what keeps the department together.
They have seen their roles change over the years. Reid noted he works to drive the trucks and to help with the set up at the scenes. “I don’t go into the fires,” he added.
The department is also working on its new home, moving just west of SR 9 on SR 120, a move they expect to complete this spring once the weather cooperates.
And for Reid and Watson, after forty years, do they plan to stop anytime soon? “It’s something you think about,” Reid admitted. But he’s not planning to stop anytime soon.
“I’ve lived and breathed it for so many years,” Watson said, “I don’t know how I’ll decide to stop.”