By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker has been in the firefighting business for 26 years. He was named interim chief in early 2009 by then-Mayor Ed Neelly, then was appointed to the full-time position by Mayor Jack Reed Jr. later in the year.
Walker, from Iuka, started his career as a volunteer firefighter in Tishomingo County. He became a full-time fireman in Iuka before joining the Tupelo department. He also worked with the Tishomingo Sheriff’s Department as a fire investigator.
Walker spoke with the Daily Journal’s Danza Johnson last week about his background and experiences.
Q:What made you want to become a fireman?
A:Just like every little boy, I grew up wanting to be a fireman. I was just in love with the idea. But one day my uncle’s house caught on fire and the fire department came and put the fire out. Just seeing those red trucks with all those lights and hearing those loud sirens really solidified my choice. Then I saw the way they helped my family even after the fire. That day made me really want to be a fireman so I could help people in need. So here I am today – 26 years in and loving it.
Q:Do you remember the first fire you fought?
A:I do. The very first fire was when I was a volunteer and it was a car fire. But as a career firemen, my first fire was an apartment fire in Iuka. In Iuka we were a very small and understaffed department, so we often had to work alone. Well, I got a call at 2:30 a.m. that there was a fire. When I got out there I saw smoke around the light poles but didn’t see a fire. So when I walked around the building I saw flames in the kitchen. So I broke the window, set up the ventilation fan and went in and put the fire out. I was all by myself and I put the fire out with no help. I broke all the rules I teach my firemen today, but it was just something you had to do when you worked for a small department.
Q:What is your most memorable fire?
A:Over 26 years I’ve had a lot of fires I’ve helped to put out, but the one that sticks out is probably one we had in downtown Tupelo in 1998. It was amazing how all the stations came together to keep that fire confined to the building where it started. If that fire had spread in those old buildings, then it could have really done some damage to downtown. We are a very close-knit family and we all came together that day to put that fire out. I love the job that I do, and to be able to positively affect lives is a great feeling for me.