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Nearly a lifetime spent answering the call
SoVaNow.com / April 28, 2014Fifty years of volunteering for the South Boston Fire Department adds up to countless man hours and untold effort. But it “has been rewarding,” said James Young, who upon his retirement was lauded by members of the South Boston Fire Company for his many years of devoted service.
“Fires don’t take a vacation,” said Fire Chief Steve Phillips on Thursday. And for the most part, neither has Young.
Young is the first member of the South Boston Department to reach the 50-year milestone of volunteerism. While there may be others in Halifax County who have given that much of their time, “they are few and far between,” Phillips said.
Young remembers well his early days with the department, which he joined April 24, 1964. He mused about the old sleeping quarters over the Treasurer’s Office, on the third floor of the present-day Town Hall, where volunteers could spend their evenings. His official title at the time was “houseman,” the person responsible for cleaning the department’s equipment.
For all this work, he was paid $15 per month. He had to provide his own meals which, more often than not, came from across the street at Faulkner-Lawson Drug Store. At the time he was working at US Plywood seven days a week, making $1.20 an hour.
Five years after he signed up as a firefighter, one of the biggest disasters in South Boston history struck — the Roses fire downtown, two days after Christmas in December 1969. Young remembers the event very well. Fearing that the entire Main Street block would go up in flames, firefighters from every county fire department rushed to the scene to contain the blaze, he recalled.
Phillips observed that this worst-case scenario might have transpired if not for the fire wall between Roses and the adjoining Cato’s store. The fire wall protected the upper part of the block, including the Treasurer’s office where the fire department was located at the time.
During Young’s early years, the department had four paid firemen and some 30 to 40 volunteers.
In 1967, Young switched jobs, joining the city’s work force as an equipment operator — his official title — but doing “a little bit of everything.” He spent 33 and a half years working for South Boston; over the last ten years, he served as foreman in charge of keeping up the town-owned cemetery.
Throughout that time, he helped out with fire department fundraisers, occasionally staying up all night long to cook stew and then working the next day to sell it. He also volunteered for gun raffles as one of the firefighters who would stand along Main Street, selling raffle tickets to passersby.
“I just got interested and stayed,” he mused, adding “don’t mention what my wife thought of my being gone so much of the time.”
He served on the Fire Company’s Board of Directors and at various times has held the positions of sergeant-at-arms, second lieutenant and secretary.
On Thursday, members of the South Boston Department honored Young with a framed plaque of appreciation, with the Board of Directors of the South Boston Fire Company presenting a similar honor. While regulations require Young’s retirement (he is now 70 years old), fellow firefighters were happy to hear Young say that he plans to stick around in an unofficial capacity.
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