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Brady Creel recognized for 50 years

LINDEN –

A lot has changed in 50 years, but in the Linden Volunteer Fire Department one thing has not: Brady Creel.

Creel, who currently serves as assistant chief behind his son James, was honored Tuesday by the Linden City Council. October marks his 50th year as a volunteer firefighter, an honor the state firefighter’s association says is almost certainly singular.

“The state association doesn’t have the stats, but said he was certainly one of longest serving active volunteers in the state,” said James Creel, himself with 31 years in the department.

For his 83-year old father, that distinction doesn’t seem a distraction to his service as a firefighter or encourage him to hit the retired membership rolls.

“I just play it by ear,” he said. “Watch the obituaries.”

It was 1954 when Creel joined the ranks of Linden’s firefighters at age 33, six years after moving to the city with wife Hazel and then three-year old daughter Gloria. The Creels managed a retail store there until 1967.

“It was curiosity and a chance to help the community,” Creel reflected what prompted him to join the department.

“Plus all little boys like fire trucks,” he added.

The fire department is on its sixth truck in Creel’s tenure, each one an improvement over the last.

“When I got on there was a ’40s model no-cab truck. Later we upgraded to a 1,470-gallon truck that was an old Army four-by-four,” he said.

Firefighters had to shut the old truck down when it arrived at a fire scene, manually swap the driveshaft over to the pump and reconnect it with an Allen wrench. Once completed, the truck could be restarted and its pump operated.

“It was scary at times,” he said.

Fire trucks are just a few of the things that have changed over the past 50 years in the fire service for Creel.

“Training and equipment is better – a lot better,” he said, “and attitudes – they’ve gotten better as time went on.”

“The training is more intense,” he added, noting the department members train every other Thursday night.

Today, LVFD’s lead truck is a $200,000-plus modern pumper, and the city hasn’t had to use any of its funds to buy a fire engine since its purchase of a 1986 Pierce, now the department’s third engine.

Dispatching has improved greatly over the years as well.

At one time, Creel’s home dispatched fire and police calls after city hall closed each day.

“We could activate the [outdoor warning] siren from the house and dispatched for the city and the county after city hall closed for the day,” he said.

Hazel served as the dispatcher, and support for communications and weekend operations.

Of course, that suited the Creel home to a ‘T.’

In addition to his service as a firefighter and long-time fire chief, Creel served as Linden’s public safety director, police chief and a patrolman. He retired from the city in 1986, but not from the fire department – he continued serving as a captain.

“The mayor had the wrong man – I never got a rocking chair, that was Robby Phillips,” he said, referring to Mayor Pat Vice’s comments that he’d given him a rocking chair “about 20 years ago” and “now I expect him to use it.” Vice had presented him the city’s proclamation during the council’s first official meeting Monday.