It took about $484 and some change to get the Gainesville Hook and Ladder Co. equipment from the city 140 years ago.
“Now we couldn’t get much of anything for less than $500,” Gainesville Fire Division Chief Keith Smith after the department’s 140th anniversary celebration Thursday.
Smith and some 100 others reminisced with old pictures on display through Station No. 1’s engine bay on Pine Street. Of note was the event 60 years after the department’s first funds from the city: the 1936 tornado.
The storm crushed part of the station that also housed City Hall.
“They pumped fires from the fire truck that was trapped in the station,” Smith said.
Smith was hired in 1993 by then Fire Chief David Chapman, who had his rookie year in 1962.
“When I went to work, I walked in and they said, ‘Have a seat over there. We’ll tell you what to do.’ And now you’ve got to be there almost a year under education and training,” Chapman said.
The last 50 years brought great developments in the level of training and the equipment to protect firefighters and provide better care, Chapman said.
“Now, every fireman’s got a radio on, a personal alert,” Chapman said. “The whole nine yards, and communications back and forth to the units, to the chiefs, to the battalion chiefs, to dispatch.”
Smith remembers his first fires in 1993, a building fire and a hosiery mill fire that didn’t let him get back to bed until 5 a.m. with a piercing headache.
“I was so tired and said, ‘I don’t know about this. $6.95 an hour ain’t worth it’,” Smith said, who will celebrate his 23rd anniversary with the department next month.
In the 1990s, Chapman recalls the annual call volume between 500 and 600. With it increasing every year, Smith said last year’s call volume was short of 8,000.
For the longevity of those in the field, breathing equipment was introduced more toward the beginning of Smith’s career.
“A firefighter was kind of rated on, unfortunately, the amount of smoke he could eat, which is why there’s not old firefighters,” Chapman said.