By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
BALDWYN – Fifty years ago, as a 15-year-old volunteer, Jerry Ozbirn joined the Baldwyn Fire Department.
Now, at 65, he is chief of the very same department.
“I started out as just a regular fireman and worked my way up through the ranks trying to improve and serve our community,” he said. “Trying to teach and give everybody an equal opportunity to serve their community.”
On Thursday, friends, family and fellow firefighters gathered at the Baldwyn Fire Department to celebrate his 50th year of service.
Ozbirn arrived after the fire trucks were pulled out of the garage and tables of food set up in their place.
“You can’t keep much from this old man,” he said sternly as he walked up to the surprise party, trying to suppress his surprise and a grin.
Ozbirn’s father was with the Baldwyn Fire Department when he joined, and like his father, became assistant chief and then chief.
“My dad was in the department for 32 years and he always wanted to see us go to full time but unfortunately he passed away,” he said. “Whether I was chief or not, I was going to stay until I got to where I couldn’t walk.”
The department is still volunteer, but Ozbirn is working to make it full time.
And he’s never thought about leaving for another department or a full-time department.
“This is home,” he said.
Baldwyn Mayor Michael James said Ozbirn is hard-working and professional.
“The best thing he does is he just takes his job seriously,” James said. “He’s whole-hearted. The other night he called to say we had bad weather coming, and he had this department open if anyone needed to come because we’ve got storm shelters out back.”
All the firefighters who work under Ozbirn said he is laidback but serious about his job.
“He’ll do anything for you if you just ask him,” said James Brigman, a four-year veteran of the department.
Brigman also spoke of Ozbirn’s compassion for those around him.
“He cares for folks,” he said. “There have been times houses have burned down and he’s been out helping them gather furniture and clothes. He loves his job, and he does well at it.”
Ozbirn said when he started, firefighters were called smoke eaters because they didn’t have the oxygen tanks and equipment they do now.
These days, he is securing grants for top-of-the-line fire trucks.
“He’s seen a lot of changes,” Brigman said.