On Dec. 1, 1953, Harold Thompson walked into the Gainesville Fire Department with two other firefighters for the first time.
In the earlier days of the fire department, standards for training operated on a local level.
“At that time, each department kind of did their own thing,” former Gainesville Fire Chief David Chapman said. “Nobody really communicated back and forth with each other.”
Thompson was celebrated for a four-decade career in fire services with his induction into the National Fire Heritage Center Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders this year.
A decade after starting with the Gainesville Fire Department, Thompson moved to the Georgia Fire Institute as a supervisor for fire services training. Two years later, he was named the first head of the Georgia Fire Academy.
“He took it from a one-man show to developing it to what it is today,” Chapman said.
For nearly 30 years, Thompson oversaw and helped develop the standards and certifications for training firefighters. In 1963, about 3,300 firefighters were trained statewide.
“When I left in 1992, we trained 29,000 firefighters in the state of Georgia,” Thompson said.
The draw of the Georgia Fire Academy and the larger Georgia Public Safety Training Center has reached international levels, as members from the Tokyo Fire Department have spent time at the Forsyth center.
“It’s something for me to behold to see that center and know what we had when we started in 1963,” Thompson said.
In retirement, Thompson kept a promise to his wife to travel, including an Amtrak trip across the country.
With his induction to the hall of legends, Thompson joins a select group, including Benjamin Franklin. The Founding Father was the first inductee to the hall of legends for establishing the first American volunteer fire company in 1736.