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Volunteer Firemen

Volunteer Firemen
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
Volunteer Firemen
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

In the 1970s, our family moved from the city of Warner Robins out into a more rural land — a new subdivision with a Bonaire address situated near the corner of Highway 96 and Moody Road. The new home had a carport, and my parents decided to close it in to make it a “game room.” My father envisioned a space where he could entertain his friends. A pool table was delivered to the house and over the course of months and years, the walls became decorated with pictures of dogs playing poker, deer heads, mounted fish, a raccoon on a limb, fox squirrels and two large wall murals painted by his friend, Bill Rogers.

Being a modification to the original structure, the game room was often cold in the winter months, and my dad hired a brick mason to come and construct a brick fireplace on the outside corner of the room. That’s where this story actually begins — with that poorly constructed fireplace.

One winter evening, Daddy built a blazing fire in that fireplace, and we warmed ourselves in front of it. My father was working a night shift at Robins Air Force Base, and at some point, he got up, dressed for work and left the house. The rest of us jumped into our warm, cozy beds and went to sleep.

At some point in the night, my mother woke up and smelled smoke. She walked to the end of the house and realized that smoke was gathering in the game room, so she woke us up and told us to come with her and stand at the end of the house.

“I made two phone calls that night,” she remembers. “I called the fire department in Bonaire — the volunteer fire department — and told them that the house was on fire. And I called Herman at work and told him about the smoke. Your daddy thought it was just heavy smoke from burning red oak logs that night, so he wasn’t too concerned.”

Mom, my brother, my sister, and I stood at the end of our house and waited for fifteen minutes for the fire truck to get there. I was young and still in elementary school, but I remember the moment they arrived. They pulled into the driveway, and men leapt into action. David Stone, the father of one of my classmates, charged toward our house shouting, “Where is it? Where is it?” Mom quickly explained the situation to him, and within minutes Mr. Stone and other volunteers were ripping out the wall next to the fireplace to uncover the source of the smoke.

“The fireplace had not been built correctly, and some 2x4s were smoldering,” she says. “Your daddy was wrong — it wasn’t the red oak. It was a fire.”

That little volunteer fire department had sprung into action and saved our house, saved our belongings, and maybe even saved our lives.

“Your father knew some of those men,” she says. “His friend, Seventeen Burdine, was a volunteer fireman back then. He was named Seventeen, because he was the seventeenth child in his family.”

“I remember Mr. Burdine,” I answered.

“And as far as that old truck that the volunteer fire department used, Herman and I drove it up to Macon one day, and your father welded something on it they needed,” she said. “Then we drove it back to Bonaire. I’ll never forget that.”

Neither of us will ever forget the volunteers who came to our rescue that night. And for years afterwards, Mom and I both made donations to continued from page

the volunteer fire department as a way of paying them back for their kindness and bravery.

As for Mr. Stone, Mr. Burdine and the other men who volunteered through the years there (many who have passed away by now), I want to say this: Ours is just one of many stories of how ordinary men with extraordinary courage saved not just a house, but the cherished memories and dreams held within its walls, reminding us that in the heart of every community beats the undying spirit of selflessness. In my mind and memory, that night marks a moment of valor, of camaraderie, and of community spirit — when a group of volunteer firemen became the unsung heroes of a quiet suburban neighborhood in a time before 9-1-1. They left their families and faced the fiery menace that threatened to devour our home that night, and for that, I will always remember them, pay tribute to them, and I will always be grateful.

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