FARMINGTON — Doug Oliver may not be the oldest firefighter in town, but he has been with the department the longest.

As of Tuesday, Oliver had volunteered 50 years with the department, serving under four chiefs and responding to hundreds of calls in his career.

While his wife has hinted it’s time to retire, he said he loves working as a firefighter and plans to continue volunteering.

“The only way you’ll get rid of me is to kick me out,” he said.

Chief Terry Bell said it’s getting harder to find young people to volunteer with the department for reasons that include diminished interest and residents working outside of town.

Bell is the only full-time member of the staff, which has 26 volunteers who receive stipends. Bell said he thinks about half of them will stay with the department as long as they can serve. Volunteers range from new recruits to 76-year-old Deputy Chief Clyde Ross.

“Whether they stay 50 years? Well, we’ll see,” he said.

Oliver, now 72, began working as a rookie firefighter in 1963 when he was 22 years old. His father and uncle were both firefighters, which he said was part of the reason he wanted to volunteer.

He said his firefighter’s rookie period, similar to the probationary period firefighters now undergo, lasted about two years before he was promoted to a full firefighter.

When he first joined the department, firefighters voted in new people by putting colored marbles in a box. He said no one put in a black one, which was a “no,” and he was promoted.
In his early days at the department, the safety standards were more relaxed and the equipment was not as advanced as what firefighters work with now, he said.

At the time, the volunteers knew there was a fire when a loud horn blasted out the call from the fire station downtown. There also were only three tanks of compressed air for the firefighters to wear inside and around burning buildings, Oliver said, and additional firefighters had to work without them. While firefighters now suit up head to toe before entering a building, he said, firefighters then wore jackets but not protective pants or shoes.

He said he doesn’t remember feeling scared during those years, but said the new equipment and training has let him feel safer.

He helped extinguish several large fires over the years, but one call that stuck with him was not a fire but a car accident in 2011 that killed a 12-year-old girl near the station.

He and another firefighter were among the first people at the scene, and he said it was the only close encounter he had with a fatality.

“That sticks with you for a while,” he said.

Oliver said he has had to slow down over the last few years but still works at the station on most Wednesdays and responds to calls.

He said his wife, Susan, has told him it may be time to think about retiring.

“She’s been after me for a long time to retire. She says, ‘That’s a young man’s game,’” he said.

He said Susan has joked at times that he volunteers with an almost religious devotion.

“My wife tells me this is my church. I don’t look at it that way, but I do spend a lot of time here,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder— 861-9252
[email protected]

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