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Forever chief: Longtime leader to step aside, stay in department

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, December 20, 2017
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Changing Post

CHANGING POST – Newark Fire Chief James Edgemon will be stepping down as the department’s chief at the end of the year. He plans to stay with the department he’s served for more than 50 years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

For years nearly every tone for the Newark Volunteer Fire Department soon was followed by the unmistakable voice of Chief 16 James Edgemon cracking the radio silence to acknowledge the page.

Even after more than 54 years of service with the department and spending most of that as chief, it’s rare for Edgemon to not be on a call. Through November, the 75-year-old had worked 254 hours and made 387 calls this year.

“Usually for him, he’s in the 80 percent range for calls he runs,” said Assistant Chief Jerry Taylor. “We started shifts, and it has come down a little because we have people up here.”

Edgemon has no plans of slowing down, but he is stepping aside as the department’s chief. Earlier this month, he announced he would not run for re-election as chief.

Still Active

STILL ACTIVE – Newark Fire Chief James Edgemon helped battle a grass fire on Old Base Road last week. He’s made more than 300 calls this year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“I tried once to figure how many times I’ve been chief ,and I really don’t know how long I’ve been chief this time,” Edgemon said. “I guess the reason I’m still chief is no one would run against me.

“They couldn’t believe that I was going to resign this time. They kept saying, ‘you’re what?’

After he told the department’s members, they responded by naming him “Chief Forever.”

“Jerry [Taylor] is going to be the working chief, but I’m still Chief Forever,” Edgemon said. “That was them saying that and not me.”

Taylor will start the post Jan. 1 and admits it’s a tough act to follow.

“He’s a figure in the department that will never be replaced,” Taylor said. “He’s a role model and mentor to all of us. He’s been a father figure for several of them.”

It was Edgemon’s father-in-law R.V. Baggett that convinced him to join the department shortly after he married his wife Sherry.

“He kept talking to me and telling me I needed to join. I joined in ’63, and I’m still going,” Edgemon said.

Over his time, he’s seen the department grow from one truck to nine and the membership increase to 24 members.

“How far we’ve come from where we started” Edgemon said is what he’s most proud of. “You look here with what we’ve got as far as vehicles. The members themselves with how long they’ve been with us. It’s been pretty consistent, from where we started to where we are now and how we’ve got there. Also the community support. I can go on and on with how much help we’ve had.”

Edgemon recalled the first vehicle purchase – a 1967 Ford.

“The Ford house in Decatur let us buy it at their cost. All together, we had $10,000 in that first truck,” Edgemon said. “We bought the chassis, and it was built in Fort Worth.”

He led the effort in 1982 to buy the next Ford.

“On the ’82, we went door to door for six to seven years to pay for it. It was $63,940. You can tell how much knocking on doors I had to do. I remember that well,” Edgemon said.

Edgemon went over specifics of the newer trucks that fill the fire station. He credits Taylor with helping to secure grants to pay for the newest tanker and other vehicles.

“The ’67 was probably the hardest one to pay for. We paid for it going door to door,” Edgemon said. “The grant money helps. A grant doesn’t pay for everything, but it sure does knock a hole in it.”

Going on thousands of calls over the years, he won’t claim to remember them all. But he can remember most of the fires. The first two that come to mind are two church fires.

“The first one we saved – the Baptist church. The second one, the Church of Christ, we lost,” Edgemon said.

At the scene of a fire, just as the grass fire last week on Old Base Road, Edgemon is usually in the middle of the action. That’s the only way he knows.

“If I’m on scene, I’m fighting fire. I’m not telling you how to do it” he said. “I don’t tell anyone to do it, if I’m not going to myself. I’m not going to stand out there in the front yard and send someone into the house. I’m going to be in there with them.”

Edgemon, who retired after 30 years at General Motors, plans to stay active in the fire department for as long as he can.

“It’s just something that I got in me. I’ve been good help,” Edgemon said. “Right now, I’m 75, and I know I can’t do what I used to. But I’m still going.”

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