Friday, May 16, 2008
Last in a line, firefighter Dave Duren leaves with 45 years of memories
Dave Duren welcomes me to his workroom in a converted garage. “This is where I spend most of my time,” he says. Duren recently retired from the Carlisle Fire Department after 45 years. As we peruse a collection of awards and memorabilia from his days as a firefighter, provider of car-towing for the police and owner of Carlisle Repair, Duren recalls a time when fire and accident safety in Carlisle was more challenging without the protections of today.
Dave’s father and two uncles were among the first to join the newly formed Carlisle Fire Department in 1929. He remembers the fire horn calling his dad. “The number of blows told which street. I would get on my bike and pedal to the fires.” As young teens, Dave and his friends would help pull the hoses. When he reached the age of 16 he was allowed to join the force at “something like $1 an hour.” For training, “They gave me a badge and showed me how to check the air in the tires and the fluids in the truck. I learned from guys who’d been on awhile, and from trial and error.”
“Now we have the most modern equipment and training you could have,” he says, “but it was rag-tag in the early days.” When Duren joined in 1962 the station had no toilet or heat, and equipment was minimal. “There were no air packs. We had to breathe the smoke.” Protective coats were made of rubber that could catch fire. The two fire trucks were the 1931 Chevy now used for funerals, and a 1947 LaFrance. The tanker was a converted used oil truck.
“We had a lot of major fires,” he says. “You don’t get fires like we used to get,” thanks to today’s stricter building codes. He remembers his first structure fire at Great Brook Farm. A garage with an apartment above was engulfed. “From the center of town I could see the glow.” He stood with Police Chief Herb Bates by a telephone pole as they hosed the building, which lay between the barn and house. To protect themselves from the heat, they turned their helmets around. “There was no eye protection in those days.” He adds, “We contained the fire and saved the barn and house that are still there today.”
Another fire on Robbins Drive required Duren and Dick Metivier to enter the second floor bedrooms to grope around in the smoke. “I felt a small body on top of the bed. It felt like it could have been an infant.” He ran from the building clutching the bundle, only to find he was carrying a large rabbit. A good thing it wasn’t a child. “The rabbit was deceased.”
“Now we have backup and procedures,” says Duren, but that wasn’t always the case. Once he received an alarm at the Carlisle Animal Hospital and discovered he was the only firefighter. He was met at the door by a surprised Dr. Peter Morey, who was well-known to Duren, “I worked on his vehicles, and he worked on my animals.” Fortunately, the emergency was minor.
In addition to firefighting, Duren ran Carlisle Repair for many years, and was the official police towing service. “There were a lot more accidents” in those days when roads were crooked and speed rarely controlled. He remembers several accidents, especially one in which a young child died. “I still see that little girl,” he sighs, shaking his head.
In addition to the trauma of dealing with death and destruction, Duren notes that firefighting and rescue work required other sacrifices. “There’s a lot of hard work to it. People get on who like the concept of red lights and sirens. Some of them don’t last too long.” In the early years, firefighters were expected to stay within earshot of a call. “I wouldn’t go away a lot of weekends.” Every time he responded to a fire he lost income, losing time he could have devoted to work.
In 1995, he voluntarily gave up the firefighter’s stipend after an operation on his wrist and hand made it impossible to do the work of other firefighters, but continued to provide training and “giving my knowledge back.”
The Duren family has contributed eight members and 117 years to firefighting in Carlisle, including Duren’s father, two uncles, two brothers and two nephews.
Growing up in Carlisle, Dave recalls a childhood where his grandparents and relatives lived close-by. “Carlisle was a poor farming area. We had cows and chickens, and grew our own vegetables.” For Christmas his father would refurbish the children’s toys and gave them back, as there wasn’t money for new toys
Duren regrets that now he is the last in the family to reside in Carlisle, and will soon be moving. “Durens have been here since the founding of the town,” says Dave. He would like to stay where he has lived all his life, but “money doesn’t go very far today. You can’t collect Social Security and pay these kinds of taxes.” So he will be retiring to New Hampshire where he owns a place. This weekend he will be competing in the Fishing Derby at Lake Winnipesaukee with his brother Bill.
A recent car accident left Duren with several broken bones and a long recovery period. Reluctantly, he decided it was time to retire from the Fire Department. He looks forward to spending time fishing, and to celebrating 40 years of marriage to “the bride,” his wife Donna. But will he miss the department? “Oh yeah! It’s been my life.”
That sentiment was reciprocated at a recent Fire Department dinner that honored the retirement of Duren and Rob West, who was retiring after 12 years. Duren was presented with a wooden chair containing an emblem, his badge, several plaques and a ceremonial ax. Captain J.J. Supple gave a speech which looked back on the years and concluded, “You have been a great firefighter, mechanic and friend, a mentor to so many of us coming up the ranks. You will be missed by all of us and are a welcome guest at the fire station and considered family in our hearts.” ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito