(Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)
Carroll Towell of Manila has answered the fire alarm for 39 years. Towell, along with other volunteer fire fighters, stay prepared to stop what they are doing to help others 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Being a fire fighter is more than just showing up at a fire. It is weekly meetings, training sessions and continuing education. Towell said there is a bond between fire fighters.
"We depend on each other," he said. "All through the years I have worked with a great bunch of men. I could call on them anytime if I had a personal need or if there is a community need, and they would be there."
Towell officially retired from the Manila Fire Department on Oct. 1.
Towell was raised in Leachville, graduating from Leachville High School. He followed his dad's (Lloyd Towell) footsteps during his high school years joining the Leachville Fire Department. After a tour in the Navy and a short stay in the St. Louis area, he and his wife, June, moved to Arkansas in 1967 and made their home in Manila.
Towell opened Towell & Sons TV Clinic in Manila and joined the Manila Fire Department in October of the same year. The Towells later opened Towell & Son Furniture serving the community for many years before opening Towell & Sons Auto Sales in Manila in 1987. Towell & Sons is a family business and has continued to grow. Towell said he is especially happy to have his son and nephew, Jeff and Monte, decide to join the business full time. Both their daughters-in-law, Duffee and Elisha, work in the office. Towell said he is not ready to completely quit work, but he and his wife plan on working a little less, traveling a little and enjoying time with the grandchildren.
The Towells' oldest son, Larry, also lives in Manila.
"Carl Byrd worked with my mother at Rodman's Hospital and he asked me to join the Manila Fire Department shortly after I came to town," Towell said. "I feel like it was an honor to be allowed to serve on the department."
Towell also expressed his appreciation to the wives of fire fighters.
"June was usually the one who took the fire call back when we had the telephones with buttons," Towell said. "When we got a call, she would push the button on the telephone to activate the siren located at the old water tower and the firemen would be alerted. Wives of fire fighters have to be as dedicated as the firemen. They have to work their schedules around our fire meetings, training sessions, and when we are out at a fire. I'm sure they lose as much sleep as the fire fighters do when we have to be out at night."
He has seen a lot of changes over the last 39 years. The equipment is better, and the fire fighting techniques have changed.
"We used to go into a house without even thinking about a breathing apparatus but not anymore," Towell said. "The Manila department has about the best equipment we can have. I am very proud of everyone who has served and is serving. I am especially pleased to see our younger guys who are stepping up."
Several years ago the fire department saw a need for a first responder team. The Towell family donated the first truck to be used by the first responders.
"June and I were happy to do it for the community, "Towell said. "The community has been very good to us through the years and it was a way of giving back. The truck served the purpose until we could get a newer one. The first responders make a difference in our community. Many times the ambulance may be out of town and these guys are the first ones on the scene to offer care until medical help arrives. They are doing a fantastic job."
Some of the major, long hard-fought fires Towell remembers include Barton Lumber when the paint was exploding; the Leachville Compress; buildings on Manila Main Street; and the Manila gymnasium.
"Of course the worst is when lives are lost in fires or wrecks," Towell said. "It is not an easy job. Everyone does not want to be a fire fighter and that is understandable. The Lord has blessed me and I have never been injured at a fire. I have enjoyed being part of the Manila Fire Department. It has been a great experience. When I walked out of the firehouse after I submitted my retirement papers, it was like I was leaving home. I had been there almost every Thursday night for 39 years. It has been my honor and my pleasure to serve all these years."