Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Retiring Covington Fire Chief Don Floyd stands next to the photo of his father, the late Chief Rodney T. Floyd, at Covington Fire Station No. 1. A second generation firefighter, Floyd will retire this year after nearly 40 years of service.
COVINGTON -- The smell of smoke has been a constant in Fire Chief Don Floyd's life, but after nearly 40 years with the Covington Fire Department, he's decided to hang up the hose.
Floyd will have worked for the city for 39 years, six months and 13 days when he draws his first retirement check the first of next year. His last day at work will be June 3; however, due to accrued leave, his retirement will not take place until Dec. 31. Newly hired Chief John McNeil will be coming on board June 6.
But the nearly 40 years as a firefighter doesn't really tell the full story of Floyd's involvement with CFD. He grew up as the son of the first paid chief for the city -- Chief Rodney T. Floyd -- who was hired by the department in 1947 and spent more than 25 years with the city. Floyd spent the first seven years of his life in an apartment over the old Fire House located just off the Square on Clark Street.
"During the 61 years of my involvement with the city of Covington, it's been a good ride," he said recently with a broad grin as he packed a few remaining items from his office. "We had our down times and our up times just like anybody else, but basically, it's all been wonderful."
Floyd admitted he's seen a lot of changes during his tenure and recalled some of groundbreaking accomplishments of the CFD.
"The science of firefighting has really changed and the equipment that is available for us now has changed, as well as the methods and approach to firefighting," he said, adding that fire and its dangers were just about the only things that haven't changed. "For instance, when I first began working, of course, there was no such thing as fire retardant clothes for firefighters. Our pants were made out of polyester and you know what happens to it."
Floyd said when he first came on board as a young firefighter just after serving four years in the Coast Guard, there were 12 employees in the department. Now there are 55.
Floyd began as a suppression firefighter, and then advised as fire marshal, assistant fire chief and was appointed chief in 1999.
"We've grown quite a bit, but we haven't grown as much as the population and haven't grown as much as the demand for services," he said.
Under Floyd's leadership the CFD has been internationally accredited since 2003, making it one of only four in the state to achieve that distinction.
"There are 90 core criteria and almost 400 performance indicators you have to meet for the accreditation," he said.
Also, Floyd was the first full-time fire inspector or fire marshal for the city.
"I had the opportunity to write the first fire prevention ordinance that we had. I found that very challenging," he said. "The code enforcement we have, making sure everything is safe, has really made a positive impact on the city ... the frequency of fire and also the amount of damage when we have a fire is drastically decreased from what it used to be."
One of the major change he's seen over the course of his career is the evolvement of fire services to include medical emergencies.
"All of our people are certified first responders and the majority are (emergency medical technicians)," he said. "About 66 percent of our calls for service are emergency medical related."
Floyd said no matter whether the call is a burning building or something less dramatic, he finds the job firefighters are called to do gratifying.
"When you think about it, no one usually calls unless they're in need of some kind of service," he said. "They're either losing their property; they've got health problems; or they need someone to do something nobody else will do. If the hot water heater starts leaking, believe it or not, they call the fire department. It's been gratifying to me that we're able to help people when they need something."
He recalled one little boy that needed something from a burning house.
Floyd said he was first on the scene and he made sure the family of three was out of the burning house. He took the little boy across the street out of harm's way.
"I tried to console him and sit down and talk with him. I asked him, 'Are you OK?'" he recalled.
He replied, "Yes sir, but I'm concerned about Bobby."
The chief asked who was Bobby and to his horror the little boy told him Bobby was his friend and he was in the house.
The chief said he hurriedly went to the firefighters and told them to search the house again, but they came out and said they couldn't find anybody.
"We can't find Bobby," the chief told the boy. "What does he look like?"
"Bobby's my snake," the little boy said.
"A real snake," asked the chief apprehensively.
"No sir. He's my stuffed snake," the boy explained.
Bobby was located and the youngster was all smiles.
"We found Bobby and took Bobby to him and he was okay. It was very real to him," Floyd said.
Floyd said probably the biggest fires fought by the department include the Mobile Chemical fire of 1970, which was before he came on board, and the old Covington Mill fire that was deliberately set in 1984.
"I can remember that day very well. I had been to Maryland to the National Fire Academy and had just gotten home when I got the call," he said. "Of course, when we got there it was in full bloom. I was fire marshall at the time and investigated the case. Within a week I had five people in jail. It was one adult and the others were juveniles. They just did it to have something to do."
Floyd said the most enjoyable part of his job has been the interaction and camaraderie with his coworkers.
I've never felt like anybody works for me. I've always felt like we work together. It's like a big family," he said.
Floyd said in retirement he plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and may take on a part-time job, but he probably won't be fighting any more fires.