NAVARRE, Ohio - At age 86, when most people his age, are usually well into retirement, easing their bodies into comfortable chairs, Bill Whitmore is still chasing fires. And putting them out. He is the oldest firefighter in Ohio and is still certified by the state to be an emergency medical technician.
"I've been on a lot of fires and a lot of squad calls and auto accidents over the years," said Whitmore, as he sat easily on the bench between the two giant doors of the Navarre fire department. Whitmore has lost count of how often he has responded to emergencies in the community where the population numbers about 2,000.
He is in his 65th year as a volunteer firefighter. He began his career in another fire department in 1946. The U.S. Army drafted him during the Korean War, where he spent a couple of years carrying a rifle. He even witnessed the testing of an H-bomb in a Pacific island. When he returned to civilian life in the early 1950s, he rejoined the firefighter business.
In 1975, Whitmore hooked up with the hook-and-ladder trucks of the volunteer fire department in Navarre, his hometown. Whitmore is proud of his years with fire departments, but he does not boast about the lives he has saved. Still, he smiles with the knowledge the state of Ohio continues to certify him as an EMT. "I was just renewed for another three years," he said with a proud smile.
"He is an inspiration to everyone on the department," said Assistant Fire Chief Bill Toulson. "As an instructor, I ue him a lot," said Toulson.
Because Navarre is a small community, its fire force has always been voluntary. Whitmore answers the call when the radio blares by his bedside, calling on the 15 firefighters to rally at the station or the scene of an emergency. "He's out of bed and dressed when that radio goes off," said wife Doris Whitmore.
They have been married for 65 years and are passionately in love. She knows the volunteer fire forced is her husband's other passion. "He's my hero," smiled Doris.
When Whitmore is not holding a hose, pouring water on a fire or administering first aid to someone who has been caught in an emergency, he is holding his wife's hand. "Whenever we walk together, we hold hands," said Whitmore. Across the street from the Navarre fire station is a little park lined with flowers. The Whitmores will walk through that area, take a seat on a bench, and watch the traffic go by. However, if the alarm rings, sjhe knows he is off to the business of saving lives and property.
Whitmore inherited his passion for fighting fires from his father who was a volunteer firefighter with the same department. In the fire station is a photograph of his father standing in firefighting uniform standing by a fire truck. The same truck is parked inside the firehouse today. It was built in 1933. Whitmore was born in 1928. The old fire truck does not work anymore. It is just an antique pulled in parades. Bill Whitmore is still pulling his weight.
Bill and Doris are the parents of a 59-year-old son who recently retired from a firefighting job in another Ohio community. The son retired, but the father is still on the job.
"Somebody has to do it," said Whitmore philosophically.
He is a gutsy 86-year-old who has never lost his passion for helping people. Residents throughout Navarre will tell you that. They often see Whitmore driving his 1998 Buick Riviera through the community when he is not riding the fire truck on the Emergency Medical Service ambulance. "I also have a 1972 Corvette," he boasted. A hot car for a man with a hot job.
He loves Doris. That is obvious as they walk through their community holding hands. But he also loves that volunteer fire department to which he has given 65 years of his life. And still planning on more years of service.
"He is a very humble man," said Toulson, "especialloy when he is talking about what he has done in the fire department." What Whitmore has done has saved lives, doused fires, inspired other firefighters, and taught the world a person does not have to retire at a certain age.
Toulson points to a clock on the firehouse wall. Years ago, Whitmore fashioned two crossed fireman's axes to it. The clock keeps good time. So, too, does the man who man it added the symbols of firefighting to the sweeping hands on the clock. Time is still running. And Bill Whitmore, age 86, firefighter and hero, is still on the clock.