“No more late night calls or politics to deal with.”
IMLAY CITY — After more than four decades of service the community in which he lived, Imlay City Fire Chief Rick Horton will trade in his fire gear for a “honey-do list” and a well deserved retirement at the end of this month.
Horton will walk away from his duties in the fire service, having served 43 years on three different departments.
He has been a member of Elba Township, Attica Township and Imlay City fire departments.
“It’s time,” Horton told the Tri-City Times. “I always felt like I would know when it was time to get out and that time is now. It’s not going to be easy, but I know now is the time for me.”
Like so many other longtime firefighters, Horton followed in the steps of family members when he first got in to the fire business.
“I have a brother on North Branch Fire Department, an uncle in Oxford and my two boys are serving on departments, including Ben, who has been on with me at Imlay City for eight years. It’s just in our blood,” Horton explained.
In looking back over the fire service and how things have progressed, the 27-year Imlay City veteran firefighter says protective gear and equipment have come a long way.
“We used to have the long pull up, hip-high boots and shared facemasks for breathing air,” Horton said with a chuckle. “You never knew what the person who had the mask before you had breathed in.” He added, “Plus, we had to share fire coats. If you got there late, you weren’t going in to fight a fire. You stayed outside and helped somehow.”
Fortunately, for firefighters safety, equipment has drastically improved, along with a hefty price tag.
“It costs us $4,000 per firefighter to outfit them from head to toe now,” said the Chief. “Everyone is required to have compliant gear and it doesn’t come cheap.”
Early in his career, Horton said he was notified of a fire call by the ringing of a telephone. It has evolved now to the use of smartphones, fire pagers and the town fire whistle.
Horton also pointed to the advancement of equipment and apparatus as a plus for the department, along with moving into their current new $3 million dollar fire hall on E. Borland that was opened three years ago.
“This station has been fantastic,” the Chief said while looking around. “The old hall (on Third St.), you couldn’t move around in it at all. We had to pull the fire trucks out to have a meeting, then take tables and chairs back down and bring the trucks back in. Now, we have a beautiful station with plenty of room and even some room for the future, depending on what comes down the road at us.”
Along with being a volunteer firefighter, Horton gave 32 years of his life to Ford Motor Company, working at the plant in Romeo. He said he even left work, if the call was serious enough, like a fatal fire in Imlay City a few years ago.
Looking back over the years, Horton recalls several incidents with ones involving children the most difficult to deal with. He also mentioned one of the larger fires he has ever been involved with.
“The Champion Bus fire – that was a monster that I was in charge of,” Horton recalled of the 2010 inferno. “We had 11 departments there and used over one million gallons of water to put that out. We had three aerial trucks there and just needed every drop of water we could get. So, we had tankers and manpower from all those departments. It was a long night, and day.”
Horton, who said he is retiring in part after becoming “tired of the politics” of running a department, intends to enjoy more free time and work around his home on a lengthy list of “to do” projects.
Responsible for the department’s $130,000 budget and keeping up with laws and training requirements, Horton admits it takes a toll after a while.
He has served Imlay City as Chief for the past eight years and had another 13 years as Assistant Chief under former Chief Kip Reaves.
He has been a member of the Imlay City department for a total of 27 years.
“It’ll be tough, especially the first few weeks and hearing the sirens and not going,” Horton admitted. “Some of us who have been around a long time, we’re like family. I’ll miss the guys.”
There will be an open house on Saturday, September 30 to honor Chief Horton.
The reception will be held at the fire hall from 1 to 4 p.m. and the public is invited to come out and thank the Chief for his years of dedication and service to the Imlay City area.