By Peggy Senzarino
MASON CITY, Iowa — On Feb. 1, 1943, Walt Berry joined the Mason City Fire Department.
Seventy years later, Berry, 95, Mason City, was honored Friday with a reception and luncheon at the fire station.
“I can’t believe it. Time has gone fast,” Berry said.
He called that first day of work “the fastest ever.”
On that morning Berry was just issued a pair of fire boots when the alarm rang.
“He (then Fire Chief Dan Shire) said, ‘You slide down that pole and I’ll be right behind you.’ I thought, oh boy. I hit the floor and he was right behind me. He said, ‘You get on that first truck on the back and bend your knees and hang on to that pole on the back’ and away we went,” Berry said.
“Boy, that was something. About a week after that I was driving the truck because we were so short of men.”
Berry must have enjoyed the work. He served the department for 30 years before retiring in 1973.
He said today’s weather in the single digits below zero was nothing compared to what they had to endure.
“We had weeks of 25 and 30 degrees below zero,” Berry said.
“Every day, probably twice or three times a day, we were putting out attic fires, basement fires, bedroom fires. They used the coal and then they’d throw in old boxes in the basement where it would ignite.”
Old chimneys and cedar roofs that burned like paper made the job demanding.
“We were nailing tar paper on those roofs in 30-below weather. We thought nothing of it.”
Berry’s daughter Sue Stone said her father still thinks of himself as a fireman.
“You never lose it,” Berry said.
Firefighters drove the department’s ladder truck over to Cornerstone Assisted Living to pick up Berry and bring him to the fire station.
Berry’s son Tom was visiting from Arkansas.
“When I was young I used to go visit him at the station on the south end when it was down there,” he said. “I remember seeing him riding on the back of fire trucks.”
Lt. Dave Nelson helped organize the event.
“Walt had always stayed in contact with the department. When he’d see us out training he’d always stop and talk to us,” Nelson said. “The Chief (Bob Platts) thought it would be neat to recognize Walt.”
Also recognized on Friday was retired Mason City Fire Department Capt. Dick Blunt, 90, the department’s oldest living officer. Blunt retired in 1983 after 36 years with the department.
“They were a good bunch of men. Everybody did their job,” he said.
Blunt said he liked everything about the job.
About a dozen fire department retirees attended Friday’s reception. Each one was introduced by Chief Platts.
Nelson, 44, said he hopes to share stories with firefighters from his era when they retire many years from now.
“I hope that remains consistent with all of us that are currently working together, that we share those same stories and stay in touch,” Nelson said.
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