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Fighting Fires and Running Ambulances


By: Michael Aun


When I was growing up in the tiny town of Lexington, SC all able-bodied citizens of relative youth belonged to the Volunteer Fire Department.

To be fair, our service was a bit nobler than it was fruitful. We generally considered it a successful call when we could salvage a good foundation on which the former homeowner could rebuild.

In those days, there were no paid firefighters. Even with professional firefighters of today, the goal was for everyone to go home safe. A secondary goal is “Don’t end up on YouTube.”

There was no YouTube in the sixties and seventies. We did not have uniforms or formal equipment and we resembled the Three Stooges trying to figure stuff out.

We were not professionals and we were not trained. We were casual… and casualness leads to casualties. My abbreviated volunteer career came to a crashing halt when I broke my right foot fighting a fire at a warehouse behind a gas station on Main Street in Lexington. At least we were able to eradicate the flames before they reached the gas tanks.

My Uncle George Renard was the king of the volunteer fire crew in my youth. He used to jokingly say that there were two kinds of volunteers in our crew… those who broke stuff and those who are gonna break stuff.

My own personal experiences with fires ran from bad to worse. Breaking my foot turned out to be the least of my problems. When the property owner was alerted to my situation, he threatened to sue me for trespassing. No good deed goes unpunished I suppose.

And then there was the time my office building was gutted by fire. The good news it was not totally destroyed. The bad news is it was not totally destroyed. It would have been easier if it had.

This occurred in the seventies before everything was on a computer. Fortunately all our real estate files were in-tact allowing us to salvage the information albeit soaking wet.

Firefighting was not the only volunteer activity in those days. There were no paid Emergency Medical Technicians. One of the part time jobs I had in high school was working at night at Caughman-Harman Funeral Home right there on North Lake Drive in downtown Lexington, which still exists today.

Since we had no ambulances in those days, the funeral home was generally called when someone had an accident or any ambulatory need. We used the hearse as an ambulance. This was more common than not in small town America.

In addition, on Thursday nights we had the privilege of working the local NASCAR dirt track circuit. Columbia Speedway was actually located in Lexington County in Cayce, SC. Caughman-Harman was always asked to be present when all the rednecks showed up for the weekly race.

A lifelong friend, Sammy Hendrix, who would later become a roommate of mine, always worked the race and I rode along as “shotgun.” Occasionally there was an incident on the track but frankly, I cannot recall ever having to assist any of the drivers.

In fact, fistfights between fans were more common than on-track disasters. Such was the life of a volunteer EMT… or whatever you called us. Every time I see an EMT or a firefighter, I fondly recall the days of my youth when I was not very good at either.

Since I was a sports stringer for the Lexington Dispatch-News and several other weekly papers in those days, I could gather a firsthand report on the race.

Many drivers drove at Cayce on Thursday, Myrtle Beach on Friday, Greenville on Saturday and wherever the regular NASCAR schedule ran on Sunday.

It was the only way Richard Petty could have ever gotten 200 wins on the circuit. I got to meet Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and “Ironhead” Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s father.

Those were the good ole days!

Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® is the author of “$elling Assurance in Insurance!”