Lone Oak Fire Chief Larry Freeman is proud of his department's achievements, and even though he has been at the helm for the past 11 years, he quickly shies away from taking any personal credit.

"We run three fire stations on about a $300,000 budget, which is one of the lowest in the state of Kentucky and we've got one of best ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings in the state," said Freeman. "I think we're ranked in the top 12 percent nationwide."

Freeman, like many chiefs, prefers to spread the credit for such accomplishments around to the entire department.

"It's something that's built upon over decades," he said, "and probably has more to do with those men up there" pointing to the photos of former chiefs that adorn the wall of the fire station located on Cave Thomas Drive.

"You gotta give credit where it's due."

In addition to the one on Cave Thomas Drive, other stations are located on Mayfield Metropolis Road and W.B. Ford Drive. The department serves approximately 12,500 residents in the fire district, according to Freeman, and just under 40 firefighters.

The department's equipment includes four pumper trucks, one aerial truck and two "quick attack" trucks, according to Assistant Chief Debbie Peck.

"The reason we have that (equipment) is because we do have some large houses (in the district) and some assisted living facilities that are 2-3 stories," she said.

Like Freeman, Peck has been with the department about 40 years. She has served as assistant chief for about a year.

In explaining her decision to join the predominantly male department, Peck said, "At the time I was going to school at Murray State and I had have an extra-curricular class and the EMT (emergency medical technician) was available. And, so the chief at the time said, 'if you go to that EMT class, I'll put you on the fire department.'

"And, I said well, OK ... and I just fell in love with it."

When asked to describe the makeup of the department personnel, Freeman responded: "We've got everything from blue collar, white collar, truck drivers to doctors. It's across the board. We've got the greatest group you could probably go out and hand pick and put together."

Both the chief and assistant chief acknowledge that it takes a special dedication to be a firefighter. And, a desire to serve the community.

Freeman illustrates that point by relating a story from his experience many years ago when he was a fairly new firefighter. The department responded to an early morning house fire which nearly destroyed a three-bedroom, ranch style home.

He remembers the firemen only being able to save two bedrooms of the entire dwelling, and not wanting to have to face the elderly woman who lived there.

"This is the one thing that sticks with me throughout my career," he said. "The lady wanted to see what was left of the house. She came walking back to where we were, having just lost (almost) everything.

"I said 'I'm sorry we didn't save your house,'" he said. "And she said, 'Oh honey, don't worry about that. This is wonderful, you all saved this back bedroom."

Freeman was understandably confused by the woman's reaction. When he learned that the woman's husband had died just six months earlier, he felt even worse.

It turned out that in the back bedroom closet were her late husband's shotgun and their wedding photos, both of which meant a great deal to her. She tried to put the young fireman's mind at ease by explaining she had insurance to take care of most the losses, but she couldn't have replaced the items that meant the most to her.

"That lady had her head on straight. She taught me more that night than I could have learned in 40 years," Freeman said.

From that time on, the reason he did the job was "for shotguns and wedding photos, that's the God's honest truth.

"It's community service ... I don't think it could be anything else."

LONE OAK FIRE DEPARTMENT

• Stations: 111 Cave Thomas Drive; 2130 Mayfield Metropolis Road; 111 W.B. Ford Drive

• Established: 1959

• Call volume: Approximately 240/year

• Number of members: 37-38

• Officers: Larry Freeman, chief; Debbie Peck, assistant chief.

"It's an honor to work with the other departments in the county, the greatest group of guys you'd ever run into in your life."

-- Chief Larry Freeman

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