Veteran firefighter gets surprise celebration on 90th birthday

Eugene Carroll has served over 70 years as a firefighter, starting in 1948


By Suzanne Moore
The Press-Republican

MORRISONVILLE, N.Y. — When Eugene Carroll joined his first fire company, there was extra incentive for fast response.

"There were six pairs of boots, six coats, six helmets," the Morrisonville man said. "The first six men that got there got equipment."

Eugene Carroll (third from left) celebrates his 90th birthday with fellow firefighters. (Photo/MFD)
Eugene Carroll (third from left) celebrates his 90th birthday with fellow firefighters. (Photo/MFD)

That was 1952, when Eugene was a charter member of Cadyville Volunteer Fire Department.

 

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STATE FIRE INSTRUCTOR

Friday, he marked his 90th birthday; over 70 years as a firefighter, he joined up wherever he lived — in 1948, he was part of the first Clinton County Firefighters Convention that got the ball rolling to form individual departments.

Eugene had a role in the creation of the fire companies in Beekmantown and South Plattsburgh.

He was a member of Cumberland Head Volunteer Fire Department, later moved on to the Cadyville and Saranac outfits and, for the past 15 years, has belonged to Morrisonville Fire.

In the early '60s, Eugene took on the role of state fire instructor; in 1965 he was Clinton County Firefighter of the year.

He gave up battling the flames 15 years ago.

"Too rough," he said.

But Eugene has pitched in as a member of Morrisonville Fire's Fire Police, serving as captain until last year, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

He's still a Fire Police member, however.

SECOND FAMILY

"The fire department," Eugene said, talking about all the outfits he'd served, "was always a second family to me."

He didn't need proof of that.

But he got it.

One recent morning, as Eugene sat with other seniors on a bus about to leave for a dinner theater event in Lake George, there was something special in the works.

Word had spread via Facebook (privately so Eugene wouldn't know) and word of mouth — fire companies were invited to send trucks to form a parade to honor him.

And his nephew Eric Jock, president of the Red Knights MC NY 50 Motorcycle Club that puts on these events, also asked the Guardians of the Ribbon to bring their pink firetruck that delivers awareness of cancer and supports women (and men) fighting the disease.

UNEXPECTED INPATIENT

The plan was to meet at the Morrisonville Fire Station then drive to the home of Starr Carroll, Eugene's daughter, to surprise him.

"But I went to the hospital the day before," Eugene said.

He'd found himself struggling to breathe on that bus, and Starr had taken him to University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

So the venue was changed.

Hospital staff joined the effort, giving permission for Eugene to be taken in a wheelchair to the entrance of the facility.

And in Morrisonville, so many firetrucks showed up from departments around Clinton County that the staging location had to be moved to the more spacious Morrisonville Elementary School parking lot.

MEANT THE WORLD

State Police escorted almost 30 trucks from more than a dozen departments to the City of Plattsburgh, where City Police took over.

And as Eugene sat swathed in a blanket outside the hospital entrance, they rolled by one by one, lights flashing, sirens wailing and firefighters waving at him.

"It was wonderful; all the trucks and everything," he said. "You do things all your life and don't get recognized for it (a whole lot)," he said.

"All of a sudden, it comes in one shot."

"He cried," added Starr, who is his caregiver, too. "It meant the world to him."

FULFILLING LIFE

Eugene completed his first cancer treatment in March.

It didn't seem to do the trick, he said, so he signed on to try another drug.

"To see if they can give me some more time," he said.

"I guess I gotta quit sometime," he added.

But he's not ready yet.

Eugene comes of a breed that works hard and doesn't give up.

A correction officer for 30 years, he retired in 1980.

His side jobs included driving a school bus, running an electrical contracting company, courier. And he owned a mobile home park for a lot of years.

Eugene and his wife, Naomi, raised three children: Starr, Diane Higgins of North Carolina and Clyde, who lives in Plattsburgh.

The couple enjoyed numerous hobbies together, among them bowling, archery, square dancing and ballroom dancing.

Naomi was a fighter, too — she beat cancer three times before her death just six months before the couple's 50th wedding anniversary.

That was 20 years ago.

NO ZIP LINING

Eugene now boasts seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild with another on the way.

This past summer, he golfed in two tournaments.

But breathing issues now keep him from doing much — his family also makes him tow the line, he said.

"I still feel 18 in my head," he said. "But my body won't let me do what I want to do."

Starr asked her dad if he has a bucket list he'd like to tackle — maybe ski diving, zip lining ...

"I said, 'I'll go and watch you,'" she said, laughing.

"He said, 'No, I've done everything I want to in my life.'"

BEST BIRTHDAY

On his birthday, Eugene celebrated with 14 family members at the Ground Round in Plattsburgh.

Today, an open house at his home will give friends — and some cousins from Connecticut he hasn't seen for more than a decade — a chance to wish him well.

It was supposed to be a surprise, Starr said, wryly.

"But it's hard to be sneaky around him."

Even so, with the firetruck cavalcade, the family dinner and now the open house, she said, "I know this is going to be the best birthday he ever had."

Copyright 2018 The Press-Republican

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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