Fire business a tradition for two families

Published 12:04 am Sunday, June 20, 2010

On one of the few occasions that Vicksburg father and son firemen Bill Field Sr. and Bill Field Jr. worked the same shift and were riding the same truck, they nearly spun off an ice-covered Mississippi River Bridge.

The men, both now retired, recalled that they’d responded to a fire in Bovina and were refueling the truck near one of the casinos when they spotted a vehicle on fire on the bridge.

Bill Jr., who was driving, decided to volunteer to answer the call, not realizing the bridge was icy.

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“We came up that (on) ramp, and that’s when that firetruck started doing circles on us,” Bill Jr. said.

When asked what he did to maneuver a spinning, sliding firetruck and keep it on the bridge, he answered, “God rides with us a lot of times.”

The Fields worked together on the Vicksburg Fire Department for more than 20 years, from 1978, when Bill Jr. joined, until Bill Sr.’s retirement in 1999 after more than 26 years of service.

Though fire department policy, generally, is that relatives don’t serve on the same shift, sometimes it happened. “Bill and I rode ambulances together and fought many fires together,” Bill Sr. said.

Bill Jr., 53, served on the fire department for 25 years, reaching the rank of captain.

The family connection doesn’t stop there, however.

Capt. Shane Quimby is the brother of Bill Jr.’s former brother-in-law. Shane joined the department in 1994, and now his son, Joseph, is the newest member of the family to join, signing on Feb. 10.

Shane was working at a local factory when the Fields urged him to take the department qualifying test. “They told me it was a good job and I ought to check into it,” he said. “I did, and I’ve been here ever since, except for 14 months in Iraq.”

Joseph, whose incoming rank is probationary private, comes to the department after serving in the Marines. He served in Iraq twice, in 2004 and 2005, detonating roadside IEDs and impounding caches of enemy weapons.

After his military discharge he enrolled in the Hinds Community College nursing program but quit after one semester because he didn’t like it.

He likes being a fireman much more, he said. It’s a more active job and doesn’t require him to be inside all day.

“On my first 24-hour shift, we got a call around 1 a.m.,” Joseph said. “One house (on Grove Street) was fully involved. By the time we got there, a second house was on fire, and by the time we got water on it, a third house had caught fire.”

“I told him he’d always remember his first shift,” Bill Jr. said. “I remember mine.”

The men also have warned him to expect tough times.

Bill Jr. can hardly talk about the day he was on duty at Central Fire Station 15 years ago when the call came in that his own son, 10 years old at the time, had been accidentally shot at the family’s home in the Redwood community. He called his dad and told him to get up to the house, and every guy hearing the call knew whose house it was, the men said. His son did not survive the gunshot.

“That’s been my worst day on the fire department,” Bill Jr. said.

“The absolute worst thing about the job is, when you’ve lived in Vicksburg all your life, eventually a family member or a friend will be involved, and it hurts,” Shane said. “It affects you in some way at some point.”

There have been other fathers and sons, uncles and nephews and brothers who have been Vicksburg firefighters.

Once, three fathers — Bill Sr., Lester Phillips and Bree Lee — volunteered to swap time with their sons on Christmas Day, so the younger men could go home and spend time with their families.

Batesville Casket caught fire that day, and the older men had to go out and fight it.

“I told him I’d never work for him on Christmas Day again,” Bill Sr. laughed.

Bill Jr. pointed out that not everyone is cut out for its particular demands and it doesn’t take long to find out if a rookie will make it or not. He recalled one recruit who was on a crew responding to a fire at a home on Drummond and Belmont.

“He said, ‘This ain’t for me,’ came back to Central and turned his (gear) in at the back door and we ain’t seen him since,” Bill Jr. said.

But it’s not just that the work is dangerous or difficult. It’s also the 24-hour shifts at the station, working one day out of every three, the men said.

“You get used to being away from home and family, missing birthdays, holidays, and everything else,” said Shane.

“But actually, we are family,” Bill Sr. said.

“Yeah, we are,” Shane agreed. “We spend one third of our life here. We eat together, we sleep together, we work together for that 24 hours.”