Six members of the Plano Fire Department are celebrating 35 years of service this August. They were part of the same rookie class that graduated August 11, 1983.
“The guys they’re hiring now are closer to my grand-kids age,” joked Ron Cooper, Deputy Chief of Operations.
Cooper was hired in ’83 as Plano was entering a major building boom that required extra staff for a new fire station near Park Blvd and Preston Road.
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“It was two lanes in each direction,” said Ron Gregory, a firefighter assigned to logistics. “It was just out on the far western edges of Plano. There was very little development out there.”
Over the more than three decades on the job in Plano, the firefighters say the science and safety behind the work changed as drastically as the city they served.
“The things that we went through in rookie school make you cringe when you think about some of the training we had back then because people just didn’t know,” said Gregory. “They would send us through a burn house one time without the air pack so we would know what it was like so that we would appreciate the air pack.”
They say firefighters now keep air packs on even after the fire is out to mop up and salvage anything inside a structure that burned.
Firefighters also learned to tackle fires in high rise buildings and how to train with neighboring departments to respond to major incidents.
“We didn’t have any high rises when we were hired in,” said Cooper. He recalled the first building over ten stories was being built as he started his job in the fire department.
“It’s one of the most progressive departments in the North Texas area and in the whole United States, really,” said Don Becker – a driver and engineer assigned to train other firefighters.
“There’s been a few cases in the last couple of years where I actually felt like a rookie again,” said Calvin Cooper, a firefighter at station eight in Plano. “Building construction, all this stuff and having to learn different ways to fight fire.”
But those rookie cases are coming to close for some of the six firefighters with 35 years of service. Plano Fire Department says three plan to retire this year. Three others say they don’t yet have plans to retire.
“I’m proud of this place. You ask anybody around here what they do for a living, they won’t say firefighter. They say Plano firefighter,” said Cooper. “There’s a lot of pride.”