Although he’s spent most of his life putting out fires, he’s burned more midnight oil than most men in his profession – and he’s done it all at full speed, for no paycheck.
Newark Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Edgemon’s 50 years of service were celebrated Saturday night at the Decatur Civic Center.
When Edgemon arrived, an American flag waved in the breeze at the high end of a fire truck ladder. He entered the gala with first responders from around the county lined up to honor his service.
“Even at his age, he responds to more calls than anyone on the department,” said Newark Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Taylor. “He responded to 92 percent of all the calls last year.”
Last year the Newark VFD received 573 calls. Edgemon responded to 527 of those. That means that Edgemon, on average responded to more than one call every day of the year. And last year the total volume of calls was more than 100 below average.
“He’s the first one on scene and the last one to stop working,” Taylor said. “He’s the one that shows up at 3 a.m. when no one else wants to go.”
He’s not just the top responder in 2012, but every year.
“He’s been the top responder for the entire 15 years I’ve been here,” Taylor said.
At the wrecks and fires and medical emergencies he’s responded to over half-a-century he not only saved people involved, but also created a trickle-down effect that has pushed others to serve in the same capacity.
As a kid, Gainesville Fire Marshal Jody Henry was inspired at an early age by Edgemon. He grew up in Newark, near the Edgemon home.
“I don’t know if it was the flashing lights or all the excitement of seeing him rush out to calls, but I started hanging out at the fire hall,” Henry said. “Instead of running me off, James mentored me and was a true friend.
“Even now, he’s still my hero in action. Just like always.”
And behind every good man is usually a good wife.
“He’s not just volunteered for the fire department for 50 years, but he’s also been a loyal husband for 50 years,” Taylor said. “How many hot meals did he have to run out on when an emergency call went out? How many Christmas mornings did he have to leave to put out a fire?
“But Sherry has been there supporting him and the department through everything.”
Edgemon joined the department in 1963. Fifty years later, he’s still burning the midnight oil, putting out fires and leading his department.
Obviously, it’s the only speed he knows.