Springfield Township fire chief Larry Huffman, who announced his retirement at Monday night's trustees meeting, joined the department when he was 17 years old and a high school junior.
That was 40 years ago, and Mr. Huffman, who has been at almost every major fire in the township during that time, said he's ready to retire.
“My goal in life was to marry young, grow up with my children, and retire at age 57,” he said.
When he was 17, Mr. Huffman's best friend had a father who was an assistant fire chief. The father wanted his son to join the fire department under a measure that hasn't been in place since the early 1960s that accepted 17 year olds. The son wanted to learn the ropes with a friend.
But Mr. Huffman said he would have joined even if he hadn't had that connection.
“I enjoy helping people and that was one way I knew I could possible help,” he said.
He was a volunteer on the department for 16 years while he finished high school and was employed as a millwright at Johns Manville. His first paid position with the department began in June, 1976 when he became fire chief, supervising 30 to 40 people.
Now he supervises 84 people, all of whom are paid, and has a salary of $80,084. He won't actually retire until he's 58. He officially retires June 1, but will leave Feb. 5, using vacation time from then through May 31.
After 40 years, Mr. Huffman has responded to thousands of fire and rescue calls.
The two biggest fires in his memory are the Windjammer Apartment fire in February, 1979 and the July, 1987 blaze at Glengarry Country Club.
The Windjammer fire, which destroyed a 47-unit complex at 6535 Dorr St., just west of the I-475 expressway, had damage estimates at $1 million.
Mr. Huffman had been chief for three years when the afternoon fire erupted.
Firefighters chopped through two feet of ice in the pond and tow cars for the fight.
“It was cluster from the word go,” Mr. Huffman said. “My people worked diligently on getting the fire out. It was a long tough fire.”
Nearly 10 years later, parking and water woes raised their heads again with a fire at the country club on Hill Avenue. Firefighters spent nearly 41 hours on the scene and three were injured. The $1.4 million fire destroyed the ballroom, dining area, kitchen, bar, locker rooms, and the club house lobby.
``We had to shuttle water from hydrants and drafted from a pond,” Mr. Huffman said. “I think that was the main source[of water] was the pond.''
Three men were sentenced on arson-related charges.
Times have changed, he said.
“There not as many major fires any longer,” he said. “We have a good fire prevention program out there. We have ample water supply which makes it a lot better,” he said.
Firefighters have a good response time and residents are taking precautions, he said.
Ray Feeney, who has been an assistant chief, becomes chief Jan. 1.