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Rhone retires from Demopolis Fire and Rescue

Battalion chief James Rhone of the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department announced his retirement on Wednesday.

Rhone put in 25 years as a full-time member of the department and 34 years overall.

“I’ve actually been with the fire service here in Demopolis since the early ’70s,” he said. “That’s when Mr. Henry Trotter and Mr. Wally Davis were living. We had a junior program many years ago, and I took part in that.”

Rhone began his career with the department’s junior program, and took part in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program that provided jobs in the city.

“You could work at the high school or with park and recreation, and I ended up working for the fire department,” he said. “It was a six-week or eight-week program over the summer. Being around the fire department through the junior program and with the CETA program, I decided I liked firefighting, and after that, I decided I wanted to be a fireman.”

Rhone graduated from Demopolis High School in 1979 and attended the Alabama State Fire College in 1984. He also worked as a member of emergency medical services at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital with what was then called the Marengo Ambulance Service, later the Tombigbee Emergency Medical Service.

Throughout his career, Rhone has seen the department go through several changes.

“One of the biggest changes lately was when we started providing the EMS (emergency medical service) throughout the city,” he said. “Actually, it started with the fire department. A lot of people don’t know that firemen are cross-trained. The first training they go through now is medical school for EMTs — emergency medical technicians, and then, they go into the firefighting tactics.”

Rhone also said that the increase in staffing was something he was glad to see happen in the department.

“I remember the time when there used to be one person on the fire truck,” he said. “I have worked at Fire Station No. 2 when I was the only person there. That was a safety problem. The National Fire Protection Association has required minimal staffing on a ladder truck to be four or five people, and we were running with two. On a pumper, we had two people, when there was supposed to be a minimum of three or four. Now, we are in the process of trying to staff well and keep it as safe as possible.

“Also, having stations at different ends of town, where response time is at a minimum is something we have changed for the better. Being able to respond to an emergency in three minutes at the most — that’s been a plus. That has been a change that I would have liked to have put in place years ago.”

Rhone said that he would miss his fellow firefighters.

“Most of all, I know that I’m going to miss my brothers,” he said. “These are the guys I’ve been with for a long time — 20-something years. I’m going to miss the staff, and I’m going to miss the truck going down the road. I know that every time I see the truck, I might want to strike out behind it, because that’s something you never really get over.

“I’m still going to be a part of the fire department, if they ever need me, and if there’s anything I can do in dealing with an emergency, I can still participate.”