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Final Alarm

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This story is more an editorial, than an actual “news” story, but I think it bears enough merit to be placed on the front page of this publication. Our newest station is named in honor of Firefighter Jimmy Gibbs, a survivor, and Lt. Johnny McBroom, Captain John Krueger and Lt. David Lewis, who lost their lives on July 3, 1974, in an explosion at Pride Butane Company.(this references the Indiana Ave. station) Last night, while trying to locate a non-emergency phone number to contact a fire-fighter, I came across this on the city’s website. This article probably should have been written for July 3rd, but I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it.  I couldn’t sleep for thinking about how this city has forgotten these men, their families, their friends . For years, every fire truck had a plaque above the control panel in their memory.  A fitting symbol for men who answered their final alarm. I remember that afternoon vividly this morning.My father was a firefighter.  He was supposed to be at work that day.  He had taken off to take me to Jackson to the wrestling matches.  My father was the shift lieutenant who answered the “fire phone” and dispatched the calls.  This was long before the existence of 911. I was in our front yard on First East Street throwing a football with Gary Thomas (Goldie’s Express – Gary).  The fire truck went out heading up what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard.  About ten minutes later the ground shook.  It was unreal the way it felt for just a few seconds.  We left and went to Jackson without knowing that our lives had been forever changed. A short while after arriving at the coliseum the late Dan Ebeling (another firefighter) came and found us.  Dan worked for George Culkin at the matches.  He had tears streaming down his face.  We left immediately coming back home unsure of what lie ahead. The call was a smell of butane at the Pride Butane Plant on, what was then, Old Jackson Road (now Culkin Road, behind Zips etc.)  When the men drove up on the plant it exploded. Gibbs later told me that he was riding the back of the truck.  He said when they arrived Kruegar stood up on the passenger running board to try and figure out the situation.  The blast threw him about a hundred yards away.  Gibbs dove on the ground covering his head with his hands .Hands that were burned to the bone. I’ve talked with Wilford Cockrell and a couple of others about this in the past couple of years.  I don’t like to talk about it due to the affect it had on my family. Cockrell was driving the second truck into that inferno.  It took the help of the Jackson Fire Department with special equipment to put out that blast. Gibbs spent months in the hospital in Jackson.  I remember the smell in his hospital room;  the pins sticking out of what remains of his hands. I remember the fact that for years he and those widows and their children got little or nothing.  I remember that for years their pensions were less than $400.00 a month, and how the city has not helped with his medical care all these years. I  remember being at Central on the day of the funerals with my dad who refused to leave his post to attend.  I remember Byron De La Beckwith (yes the same one) driving up and giving a roll of money to be used to help with the expenses. I remember the fact that my Dad sunk into alcoholism and severe depression that resulted in making our home a nightmare.  I remember the fact that that until December 15th 1999 when my Dad died he blamed himself for not being on duty.  He felt that he would have had the foresight to instruct them to stop and walk in.  They speculated that the friction or spark from the motor ignited the blast.  You see, a rookie answered the phone that day. Pop told me often, “I got those boys killed, I got Jimmy messed up for life.”  Truth is,  it was God’s will. Those men signed on to do a job.   So, the next time you pass a fire station, paid or volunteer, and see the men and women working on trucks or just sitting outside.  Why not take a moment to say thank you or say a little prayer that they keep sitting there.   For at any moment the sound could come for their “FINAL ALARM!” The Vicksburg Daily News encourages you to donate, be it your time or your money, to the volunteer fire departments in our area. They can use all the help they can get.]]]]> ]]>

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