Capt. Lynch takes helmet to retirement

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Recently retired Lewisburg Fire Capt. William Lynch wears a child's plastic fire helmet handed to him just before his service helmet was taken out of service in conjunction with the reason for the gathering in the Recreation Center when Lynch ended 40 years with the Lewisburg Fire Department.

Good retirement parties are part family reunion and part roast where cousins rat-out the "soon to be departed." And that's the way it was Thursday evening at the Lewisburg Recreation Center's meeting hall.

Lewisburg Fire Capt. William Lynch, however, was forced to tell on himself even though he'd already spilled the beans to the newspaper, which not only caught the mess, but raked in Lynch's later remarks that mollified the mess.

He fell off a fire truck.

To better understand the story, perhaps one should know that Capt. Lynch was born and raised in Unionville, also known as Doolittle. He graduated from the Community School in 1969 and became a full-time, paid firefighter for Lewisburg on Aug. 16, 1971. Fire Chief Leonard Adams was also the police chief at the time and he asked the basic question: Why do you want to be a fireman?

"I said, 'I don't know. I've never been close to a fire truck before, but I need a job and I'm willing to try,'" Lynch said Thursday. "Larry Baxter is the one who called me about the job."

Chief Adams apparently saw something in the young man who was willing to work, but didn't have a burning desire to eat smoke. Zealots are known to go too far, but Lynch grew to be a respected firefighter and leader.

"He and Baxter had a way to bring you into the department," said Toby Adams, who's served nearly three years in the LFD. There was no hazing. "They'd tell you of when the schedule was 24 hours on and 24 hours off, and how hard that was on the family and the wives raising the kids... Plus, in a small department [there was a time] they'd call you to fires on the [land-line house] telephone."

Baxter retired recently with many years of service and sound advice for firefighters: Don't wear your wedding ring.

"I don't wear it," Lynch said, substantiating Baxter's tale from his retirement party. "Larry Baxter had his finger pulled off [in an accident when the ring got caught on a piece of equipment.] I told my wife to take it and melt it down" for a pendant.

Evonne and William Lynch have a son, Kevin, and a daughter, Margaret, and three grandchildren ages 8, 10 and 14.

"I plan to spend more time with them," Lynch said of what he'll be doing in retirement.

The public's awareness of fire safety is among many changes Lynch has seen during his four decades of service. Technology is another. Nevertheless, dangerous work remains a fact of life for firefighters.

While fighting a fire on Belfast Avenue one day, Lynch was, as he puts it, "on top of the ceiling. The roof had burned off and the ceiling gave way and I fell to the first floor, about eight feet. I didn't get injured bad."

He suffered scraped ribs.

Another time he fell off a fire truck. It wasn't racing around a corner. It wasn't even on a fire call.

And this is the tale his buddies rib him about.

Lynch and other firefighters had been distributing something for a civic project. The grass was wet and so the soles of his shoes were wet, thereby posing the risk of slippage, which happened and he fell. He was off work for three weeks.

While telling the story -- without mentioning wet grass -- Lynch was interrupted.

"Did he tell you what his first job was?" Another firefighter insisted that Lynch's first job was "feeding and bedding the horses" that pull fire wagons. So, in someone's fantasy it was that long ago when Lynch entered this public service profession that's as old as municipalities.

Big fires fought during Lynch's 40 years include those at: the vacant Red Cedar Pencil Mill that was being torn down in the mid-1970s when it covered the entire block at Ewing and Second over to First Avenue; the Ace Bayou fire several years ago in what had been the Borden plant; and a big feed mill on Spring Place Road where flames licked the sky in the 1970s.

Then there was the child who died in an apartment fire in the 1970s "and a guy who passed in a fire behind Maple Grove apartments probably 5-6 years ago."

Fire reports must now be typed and increased computerization of record keeping is something Lynch has left to the younger firefighters, he said. Another big change during his time: "Not near as many people heat with wood," Lynch said.

Baxter's retirement is at his 30th anniversary. "I won't be 60 until September," he said. He'll have Social Security in a couple of years, but recent changes in the city's defined benefit plan to a pension system will provide him monthly income.

"We got that about a year ago," he said.

Retirements leave a void, but as Lynch leaves, Clint Williams, 21, of East Berkley Circle, has become a full-time, paid firefighter. He's not related to Chief Larry Williams, but his father, Gene, is a retired city firefighter. So, Clint Williams grew up "living around it," and started at the Mooresville Fire Department when he was 18. Thursday was his first paid day at the job.

Lynch received a number of retirement gifts, but he leaves the fire hall with what he's always had, many friends, despite their attempts to roast a captain.