Packy Fair: Inspiring generations of firefighters
Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015
After working to form the Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department in 1970, Packy Fair has been a fixture with the fire department crew.
With decades of service behind him, Fair, 74, decided it’s time to hang up his officer’s hat with the STVFD. But that doesn’t mean he will be gone from the department.
“Oh, I’ll still be around,” Fair said. “I just stepped down as treasurer. I didn’t quit the fire department.”
Fellow Stoney Creek volunteers credit Fair with helping generations of firefighters get to live out their dreams.
“That is the legacy he has left,” said Kevin Colbaugh. “A lot of us are firefighters because he took us under his wing and taught us everything he knows. We got to live our dream because of Packy. He took his time with a group of old country boys and turned them into firefighters.”
Ron Picard described Fair as one of the toughest firefighters he knew, noting he answered calls just one week after having knee replacement surgery.
“He is a great firefighter,” he said. “We all look up to him.”
Fair, along with a few other men, worked to organize a volunteer fire department for Stoney Creek after Stoney Creek Baptist Church burned on Thanksgiving night 1970.
“There was only one fire department that could respond to that,” Fair said. “Hampton (Volunteer Fire Department) was running themselves back and forth. They just had a truck with a barrel they pulled behind them so they would run out of water. Hampton was trying to run all over back then.”
It was after that Fair and some others worked together to start the fire department – one that started with one truck in a garage. The department got a more permanent home after the General Building and Trade class at Unaka High School built the first fire station at 1824 Highway 91 in 1970.
Fair, with then-chief Clifford Peters, wired the building for electricity and installed the plumbing.
“Well, the wiring was turned down the first time we did it,” Fair said. “The inspector stayed around until it was corrected and then he approved it.”
The first fire truck for the station was a 1951 convertible fire engine, which meant the truck had an open cab.
“You would freeze to death in that thing,” Fair said. “I rode in that when it was 10 below zero.”
The “fire phone” was in his house until the 911 system was installed in the county. This meant any time a fire call was dispatched, the phone would ring at Fair’s home and he would alert the other firemen.
While working as a volunteer fireman, he held down a full-time job, working from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. for 17 of his 65 years in the workforce. Fair worked for Magnavox, Fleming Foods and IGA Foods.
“I went on graveyard shift for one week to help out the personnel manager,” Fair said. “It took me 17 years to get off of it.”
Working double duty was hard sometimes. There were times, he said, he would come home from work and get to sleep an hour before being dispatched to a fire call. Fair would work the call as long as it took, sometimes leaving the scene just in time to report back to work.
“I have enjoyed all of it,” he said. “I just like to help people. Still now, I do what I can. I live nearby, so when I hear a call I’ll come in and start the trucks so they are ready to go.”
Fair recalled one time when he was at the station and only one member responded to a fire call, other than himself.
“I drove one of the trucks up there,” he said. “I don’t like to drive the big trucks but I wasn’t going to stand around and let their home burn.”
Not all of the calls were for fires. One call Fair remembers most is when a woman called for assistance because she had a slithery, uninvited visitor in her home.
“She said she had a copperhead in her house,” he said. “She said she found a skin shed in the hall and wanted it out.”
Fair called then Carter County Sheriff George Papantoniou and Tennessee Wildlife Resouce Agency officer Jack Brummitt for backup. When they got to the house, Fair said Brummitt gave them a list of possible places the snake could be, including between the mattress and box springs, which is where they found it.
“I eased up the mattress and there laid a copperhead as big as my arm,” Fair said. “The woman must have been a sound sleeper; she was lucky it didn’t bite her.”
During his time in the fire department, Fair served as president, vice president and assistant chief. But he kept the title of treasurer the longest, serving in that job since 1982.
It was in his position as treasurer that Fair was able to do work to make sure the firefighters had the equipment they needed to do the job safely. The upgrades in equipment also came with the use of more technology over time.
Fair said when the fire department was first started, the men didn’t have air packs. Instead they used air canisters, which he said was like wearing nothing at all unless they were crawling on the ground. The firefighters also received improved turnout gear and new tanker and pumper trucks for each station.
“I tried to make sure they have what they need,” Fair said. “We have new turnout gear, we have new gloves and flashlights and we have money in the bank for emergencies. People accused me of being tight with money, but when you operate on donations like we do, you need to make sure you have that funding.”
Fair also credited the people of Stoney Creek with supporting the fire department for its success.
“If it wasn’t for the people of Stoney Creek being generous and standing by us, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “People are good about giving and that’s what keeps us going.”
Fair said he stepped down from treasurer because of health concerns, but that he would still be at the station daily to help out where he was needed.
He’s there every day and loads the woodstove so the station is warm for the firefighters when they arrive. He also sweeps and cleans up the station and does odd jobs are needed.
“I can’t do much but I do what I can,” he said. “I did enjoy it, and I do enjoy it still. I’ll run the pump on the truck in the day if they need me. I’ll go help where I can. People say I’m crazy for still doing it but I enjoy it.”
Fair and his wife, Darrell, live in Stoney Creek and attend Stoney Creek Baptist Church. They have a son, a daughter, two granddaughters and two great-grandsons.