COVINGTON -- A very special birthday party will take place Sunday afternoon as the men and women of the Covington Fire Department mark a century of service.
Chief Don Floyd is extending an invitation to the community to join him, his 55-member staff and other city dignitaries in commemorating this event at the fire department headquarters on Pace Street at 3 p.m.
"The fire department protects the community. It's their fire department. It's not my fire department," Floyd said. "I hope they will come, not only to the ceremony Sunday, but anytime they would like to come visit their fire department. They are always welcome."
Floyd said Sunday's event will feature unearthing a time capsule that was buried at the fire department in 1988 and the unveiling of a monument marking the department's 100th anniversary.
"One side of the monument will have the names of the firemen who were here in 2009 and the mayor and the council and the ones who are here in 2009 and the mayor and the council," Floyd said. "The other side will have a list of all the fire chiefs."
Floyd has authored a history of the fire department which makes for some interesting reading.
"Several years ago I was looking for something in an old council meeting and everything that concerned the fire department kind of jumped out at me," he said. "I began writing what I thought were the highlights of the Covington Fire Department."
The department began as an all volunteer department and salaries weren't instituted until 1922 when a chief was hired at the rate of $100 a year and an assistant chief was paid $50 a year. As an extra perk, they were to be exempted from paying street tax while they served.
"At that time they had 28 people and they had two hose reels and a hook and ladder," Floyd said, explaining that the equipment was on wheels and designed to be pulled by people to the fire. "They were placed at strategic places in the city. They had some fire hydrants at that time."
It wasn't until 1925 that fire hydrants were installed around the Square, the same year paving on the roadways around the Square commenced.
Up until the late 1940s, the Covington Fire Department was still manned by volunteers, the last three of whom worked into the mid 1980s. Floyd said the last three volunteers to retire were Buddy McGiboney, E.S. Bowen and Gene Garner.
Floyd's father, Rodney Thomas Floyd, was hired in 1947 as a paid firefighter, but volunteers were still an integral part of the department.
"It was under the leadership of Mayor Bill Dobbs and under my dad's leadership that it started to migrate to a full paid department, Floyd said. "That was one of the things Mayor Dobbs wanted to see happen."
For many years the fire station was in the building on Clark Street, between the old People's Drug Store (now Perfect Fit Lingerie) and Ramsey's Furniture, now called the Fire House. Floyd said he has fond memories of that station.
"I grew up around the fire service. Part of my dad's compensation when he was hired in 1947 was they furnished him a place to live which was a little apartment above where the fire department was," he said. "The first seven years of my life was spent above the fire department in town. I have very fond memories of that."
One of the fires he remembers from his childhood was a blaze on Usher Street when Greer's barn and Ginn Tire and Parts burned.
"I remember sitting on the steps at Ramsey's Furniture and watching it," he said.
Floyd's father was named fire chief in 1957 and he became the first full-time paid fire chief for the CFD. He retired in 1972, the same year his son began his own service with the fire department.
As a husband and young soldier in the Vietnam era, Don Floyd was looking for a job in electronics.
"I was standing in front of the fire station. My dad had retired, and I was looking for a job in 1972. Frank Turner was the city manager then and Frank asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking for a job," Floyd recalls. "I talked to him and I was hired. I was very grateful, of course. I don't think I would have been satisfied doing anything else. I started as a firefighter and was fortunate enough to work myself up to my dream."
Jack Parker served as chief from 1972 until 1992 and was succeeded by Whatley E. Curtis, who served until 1999.
Floyd was named chief in 1999 and has been active in making sure the department is top-notch.
The CFD is an internationally accredited department with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.
"We are one of four in the state of Georgia and one of 129 in the world," he said. "That's something to be proud of. We're in kind of an elite group."
Floyd said the department has always enjoyed tremendous support from the mayor and City Council and praised them for making it possible for the department to have up-to-date equipment.
"We were one of the first departments in the area to have a 'Jaws of Life' (used to extricate car crash victims) ... and we got thermal imaging cameras before some of the major metropolitan Atlanta departments had them," he said.
Floyd is married to his high school sweetheart, Marcia, and they have two sons and three grandchildren.