GREENSBORO, N.C. — Retired Greensboro Battalion Chief Larry Cockman says the stories were enough to bring him to tears.
For the last four months, he has been spearheading a project that gives fellow retired firefighters the opportunity to talk about their experiences.
What they share will be documented in the upcoming Greensboro Fire Department history book.
“When an old firefighter retires and goes away, passes away, it’s like a library burning down,” Cockman said.
The history book committee is comprised of active duty and retirees, which Cockman says has never happened.
The committee has reached out to the department’s retirees asking them to elaborate on questions including why they joined the fire service, funny stories, their proudest moment and their most heartbreaking moment.
One of retired Capt. Tim Gibbs’ most heartbreaking moments was losing a fellow firefighter.
“Everybody who knew Capt. Jackie Beard knew what kind of guy he was and to lose one of our own right in front of you and to not be able to fix it, to me, was one of the hardest things that I ever dealt with in the fire service,” Gibbs said in his interview.
In terms of the proudest moment, Ray Flowers, Greensboro’s first African-American fire chief, referred to when the department’s social landscape began to change.
“Segregation to integration in the fire department, and I thought that was a good moment,” Flowers said during his interview.
Cockman and retired Capt. Harold Haynie have conducted and recorded more than two dozen interviews so far.
Unlike the previous books, the focus on this one is to highlight more human-interest stories.
Cockman is passionate about making sure the public understands the personal and professional impact of being a firefighter.
“They see the firetrucks. They see the sirens. They know we’re coming when they’re in trouble, but they don’t know all the inner works, the dynamics of the family life, the dynamics of station life, the dynamics of seeing a dead child,” Cockman said.
The history book will also give a voice to those who were not able to share their story.
Melissa Adkins is participating on behalf of her father Capt. Robert Adkins.
He died from a rare form of lung cancer.
“I just wanted to honor him and I just hope people don’t forget him,” she said.
The Greensboro Fire Department has 285 retirees.
The history book committee is willing to talk to as many who want to share their stories.
The committee hopes to have the book ready in a year and is discussing ways to make it available to the public.