Community loses two dedicated firemen in recent weeks

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By David Meade

The Williamston Fire Department and community held funeral services last week for former Fire Chief and resident Tommy W. Walker, 89.

Walker was one of the early firefighters still around. He started his career as a volunteer Williamston fireman when he was only 13 years old, according to his daughter Debbie. “He would help Daddy Tom, my granddad, because he was hard of hearing,” she said. “He started going to fires to hear for him so it would not be so dangerous.”

When Walker began helping his dad, fires were fought with a hose reel. He was there when the town purchased their first fire engine. The 1936 model was purchased new and has been restored by members of the fire department. It is brought out for special events like the Spring Water Festival in August.

He saw the fire department call three different buildings home. The first was built to house the new fire engine and was located where the entrance to Town Square Center is now. It housed the police deparment for years after the fire department was moved to the old water plant which was located near where the old depot is now. Two bays were added to that building in the 1950s for two fire trucks.

Both structures were eventually torn down. A new fire department was built in 1980 on the other side of Big Creek.

Walker served as a fireman in the Town of Williamston Fire Department for seventy-five years, which includes several years as Assistant Fire Chief under then Chief Mike Simpson and thirty-five years as Fire Chief.

Walker was one of a select few to serve as chief in the all volunteer department and became chief in 1966.

The Williamton Fire Department has only had five fire people serve as Fire Chief since it was started, according to current Chief Steve Ellison, who was named chief when Walker retired from the position in 1977. Ellison served four years as Assistant Chief under Walker.

“He was very faithful,” said Chief Ellison. “He was one of the most faithful guys. He was always there.” Ellison said Walker continued to serve with the department, making calls and meetings, until 2013.

The five who have served as Fire Chief since the Williamston Fire Department was established in 1935 include: Chubby Norris, D. G. Stone, Mike Simpson, Tommy Walker and Steve Ellison.

Firefighters are known as a close knit group. The Williamston Fire Department recently lost another fellow fireman, LaDane Baker, who passed away on May 14. He served at the Williamston Fire Department for 35 years and was a Captain, and the Williamston Police Department for eight years.

“He was one of our most dedicated firemen,” Chief Ellison said. “LaDane was very instrumental in keeping our trucks going. He was well known by firefighters statewide.”

Photo – The restored Town of Williamston 1936 fire truck carries the casket of former Williamston Fire Chief Tommy Walker as it passes by the Williamston Fire Department on Wednesday (Jnue 22). The station’s flag was lowered to half mast. Walker served several years as Assistant Fire Chief and thirty-five years as Fire Chief. The funeral service was held Wednesday at Williamston First Baptist Church. The funeral procession travelled to Forest Lawn Memorial Park Mausoleum where Walker was entombed. At age 14, he was helping as a volunteer with the department when the town purchased the 1936 fire truck, which also Williamston’s first fire truck. (Photo by Michael Lollis)