Don was my chief and my mentor. He was responsible for unleashing this passion of mine for the fire service. Don served on the department for 16 years and I had the privilege of serving with him for the last half of those years.
By some standards, 16 years might not seem like many, but they were very productive and fruitful for the department during that time.
You see; I can only speculate on what the department meant to Don. He didn’t talk about it. He just went out and did it. I believe that it was simple for Don, in that he was one of those people who felt that any able-bodied man should help their fire department. Only he knows his reasons.
However; I CAN tell you what Don meant to the fire department.
Back then-and I am talking about the 70-80s-firefighting and training for it consisted of learning how to operate the pump and man a hose. Protective clothing was optional. If you look at old pictures, rarely would you see our firefighters in full gear. SCBAs were for sissies and training was done “in house”.
So, Don went about it with little vibrato, but he didn’t do it quietly either. Most of the time, Don spoke as if there was a freight train going through the room. In other words, he yelled a lot. He was one of those gems who thought that by yelling, he could penetrate some very thick skulls.
Continue Reading That Last Goodbye
He was willing to show you how to do something and if you weren’t real sharp like me, he’d show you again. Where Don had little patience was with those who didn’t pay attention. You learned something at his pace; not your’s.
In my eyes, Don was a giant and also very strong. Forcible entry was Don putting his shoulder to the door! His hands were the size of baseball mitts. His temper was legendary; I had heard many of the stories by the time I joined the department. I figured at some point, Don would grind me into worm food, because without too much effort, I could incite guys like him, for some strange reason. Most likely, it was because I didn’t know when to shut up!
But, the craziest thing happened. Don took me under his massive wing. Where he went, I went. If he went in, I went in. I always felt safe with Don. I think that he was more forgiving of me, because he knew that we both wanted a better fire department.
And under his leadership, we became better equipped and better trained.
He took a large group of us to fire school in Sherrard in the early 80s; something unheard of for our department. From there, several of us went on to become state-certified firefighters.
At the same time, his wife Sandy was resurrecting the women’s auxiliary to help raise money for better turnout gear, portable radios and ultimately, our very first set of hydraulic rescue tools. He was chief at the time we took over extrication from the ambulance service.
Simply put, Don raised the bar. He was one of the most unselfish men that I have ever known.
His time with the fire department cannot be measured in years, but in hours; the countless hours that he put in. One only needs to walk into the meeting room to know a little about Don. He designed it and led the effort to build it; all with donated labor.
There is another measure of a good leader and that is leaving it better than you found it.
And if you ask anyone who served with Chief Don McDowell, they will tell you to a man that Don left it much better and that he put it on a path that is still followed today.
I want to thank his family for sharing him with us and for the sacrifices that were made.
I hope that the sorrow for our loss is tempered with feelings of pride from knowing that Don truly made a difference and left an impact upon our fire department, our community, fire district and those around us.
See you later, Don.