RIVERDALE — Two long time firefighters retired from the Riverdale Fire Services, Monday.
The department held a retirement ceremony in honor of Riverdale Fire Deputy Chief Marcus Mathis and Lt. David Holt. Mathis said he started with the fire agency in September 1977, as a volunteer fireman. Holt said he started with the Riverdale Fire Department in March 1996 as a fireman.
Mathis is from Clayton County and graduated from Forest Park High School in 1971. He has 35 years of experience battling fires. He said there have been numerous memories of encounters that will stay with him for the rest of his life. Some of them, he said, were humorous. Other memories reminded him why he became a firefighter.
The fire deputy chief said there were some embarrassing times — moments when he had to laugh at himself.
“We responded to a house fire on a very cold day in the late ’90s,” Mathis said. “I was headed outside the house and my mask instantly froze on my face. The heat inside the house was intense and when I walked into cold air, I could not see. As soon as I walked over I fell five feet off the porch onto the ground with all of my equipment on my back. But, the worst part was it was in front of all of the top brass from the city and the county. Everybody was asking me, ‘Are you okay?’ ”
Mathis said he was humiliated about falling.
“How do you get up in front of all the top brass?” he asked laughing.
There were some very sad moments for him as well. One of which happened in the late ’80s, when he tried to revive an 18-month-old boy.
“He had a lot of health problems,” Mathis said. “We were unable to save him.”
The deputy chief said the toddler’s grandmother was babysitting when the child became ill. The scene played over in his head at the time, because the child’s death reminded him of his children, who were around the same age.
“It reminded me of how fragile life is,” the deputy fire chief said in a whisper.
Holt said his family, along with every firefighter’s family, had some concerns about their safety.
“My family knew that when I left the house every day, it could have been the last time they saw me,” Holt said.
The lieutenant said over the years he has watched as fire fighting equipment improved. He said he has seen fire trucks and fire fighters’ gear change for the better.
“We’ve gone from wearing rubber boots to leather boots.” he said. “The leather boots hold up better. The rubber boots left blisters on our feet. The air packs that we used to wear were not integrated with the (PASS) Personal Alert Safety System. Now, when we enter a fire if something happens, and a firefighter is knocked down by falling debris, we are notified that we have a firefighter down.”
Riverdale Fire Services chief of staff Don Cole was the master of ceremonies for the retirement. Cole said the ceremony was good for the retirees as well as those in attendance.
“The retirees were recognized for all of their years of dedicated service,” Cole said. “This is a calling, not a job. These are truly unsung heroes, that come to work to do something that they love and they never ask for any recognition. It is important for the firefighters watching this today to know that if it wasn’t for the retirees sacrifices, there wouldn’t be a fire service today.”
Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said the city’s fire service has lost years of experience in the retirement of both men.
“They were great employees, they had tenacity, diligence, devotion and they loved being servants,” said the mayor. “I feel that we have lost two great giants but to everything there is a season and their season is over. All we can do is pray that the young ones learned and adapted to their wonderful fruits of working. I congratulate them and send them off with Godspeed.”