92-Year-Old Volunteer Firefighter Loves Work

By Christopher Smith Gonzalez
|  Thursday, Sep 22, 2011  |  Updated 10:27 AM CDT
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92-Year-Old Volunteer Firefighter Loves Work

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Art Hewitt is League City's longest serving volunteer firefighter.

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Art Hewitt walks into Fire Station 1 in League City with a ready smile and a sense of purpose.

Around him, firefighters pull chain saws and hoses out of trucks, test sirens and clean up.

Hewitt has come to this station to answer emergency calls, to train firefighters and to help check and repair trucks for the past 60 years.

At 92, Hewitt is much older than all the other firefighters around him, but he still is part of the force and this is his station.

Hewitt, League City's longest serving volunteer firefighter, is an institution at Fire Station 1.

The station is even named after him.

"He's a very dedicated man," said Julian Meza, a volunteer firefighter who has worked with Hewitt since 1982.

Meza said Hewitt is like a grandfather to him and the many others in the department.

Hewitt can be counted on to show up every Tuesday when the stations trucks are inspected and equipment is checked and repaired. The younger firefighters do much of the work, but Hewitt still helps and still has plenty to teach.

"He's been there for us all the time, "Meza said. "Anything you needed, he was there."

From learning how to pump water through the fire trucks to driving the old standard International fire trucks to responding to emergencies, Hewitt has been there to teach and train him and the many others who have come through the department, Meza said.

Hewitt joined the volunteer fire department in the early 1950s when a friend in the department left to join the military.

"He asked me to take his place," Hewitt said.

His friend came back from his time in the U.S. Army and joined a fire department in Central Texas. Hewitt, meanwhile, stayed on in League City.

"I've been everything, captain, lieutenant, so many things," Hewitt said of his time with the department.

When he started, League City had only one station and a siren on a radio tower to call the volunteers when there was an emergency.

And Hewitt has answered all kinds of emergencies -- brush fires, a fire at a hardware store and a day in 1979 when it rained 26 inches in 24 hours.

"I spent the whole night up helping people get to their homes," Hewitt said.

"Volunteering is good for you," Hewitt said, and he should know.

Hewitt has spent a lifetime serving others.

After graduating from high school in League City, Hewitt joined the military. He would serve in Italy during World War II as a bombardier with the 15th U.S. Air Force. His plane was shot down, and Hewitt spent a year in Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner of war camp. It's the same prison, Hewitt points out, that was the basis for the film, "The Great Escape," starring Steve McQueen.

Hewitt was freed by American forces and made his way back to the United States. He married and eventually moved back to League City.

"I have a lot of friends over here," Hewitt said as one of the reasons he keeps coming back to the station and keeps volunteering. "That's important."

Kerry Chasteen, a member of the department from 1975-2005, who recently started volunteering again, counts Hewitt as one of his mentors. He remembers how when he started in the 1970s, firefighters had to do their own maintenance on their trucks and equipment.

Chasteen said he learned so much from Hewitt, who was a machinist, that he was able to get a job as machinist as well.

"If you didn't quite understand something, he would go over it like four, five, six times. However many times it took," Chasteen said. "That man there is gold."

Hewitt is still teaching. He tells his stories, and he can still pump water through the trucks and drive "Granny," the 1955 International fire truck that goes out on parades and funerals.

He does it because volunteering with his friends and serving his neighbors is what he loves to do and what he has always done.

"A chance to help people," Hewitt said, "That's what it's all about."

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