July 24, 2010
City firefighting career full of memories
Capt. Ed Beebe spent 38 years on the job and plans to continue as a volunteer
Retired Cortland city fire Capt. Ed Beebe recently recalled vivid memories of the fire scenes he has responded to, even his first.
It was in the spring of 1972 and the call was for a propane truck on fire in a garage at the Agway on River Street.
“We’re pulling in and all the employees are yelling, ‘Don’t go in, it’s gonna blow,’” Beebe, 63, said this week during an interview.
Gas fumes ignited inside and caused an explosion, but structural damage was minimal.
Beebe, who retired last month after nearly 39 years as a firefighter, says firefighting will never be out of his blood. Beebe said he stayed on the job out of a passionate sense of duty, having served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Protecting people has proven a unique parallel between both types of service, he said.
But the years caught up with him and retiring became inevitable.
“I don’t want to retire, I could go on forever, but the body said, ‘you can’t,’” he said. “I felt in my career here that I’m here to protect my whole family and community of Cortland.”
Beebe has seen fires of various sizes and strengths over the years. Some could be contained and doused before doing much damage, but others spread too fast.
Others left their mark on a much more somber level.
Beebe was among responding firefighters about 20 years ago who were dispatched to a house fire on Kellogg Road in Cortlandville in which a woman and two young boys were trapped inside. The father made it out safely but the rest of his family became trapped, Beebe recalled.
The woman woke up in the middle of the night and saw fire in their living room. Beebe said she opened the front door for an exit and ran upstairs to gather the children, but that fueled the fire and swept it up the stairs.
The family tried getting out through the roof and the father made the jump down. But one of the children had strayed behind and the mother went back through the smoke-filled second floor to save her son, Beebe said.
Their remains were found together in the aftermath of the fire.
“It was a sight I’ll never forget,” Beebe said. “I can still see their faces and I can still see their bodies.”
Arguably the hottest fire was at Willcox Tire on Port Watson Street in the late 1980s. Beebe said he was on the first engine truck at the scene.
“There were flames already coming out of the wall,” Beebe said. “The second floor above the office was already fully involved.”
Rubber, oil and gasoline from the auto repair shop made the flames fiercely hot, Beebe recalled.
He lost count of how many explosions there were inside and the fire engine had to be moved back as the heat grew more intense.
Beebe, who lives in Cortlandville, said there are positive aspects to retirement, especially spending more time with his family.
He and his wife, Ilse, have been married 40 years.
They have a 35-year-old daughter, sons who are 33 and 31, as well as two young grandchildren.
“I don’t have to worry about working anniversaries, Thanksgivings, Christmases, all that stuff,” Beebe said. “That part of the job they understood.”
The fire department gave Beebe a plaque commemorating his long service during a retirement ceremony last month. When Beebe left the station on his last day, his fellow firefighters stood in salute.
The fond memory spurred tears for Beebe as he talked about it.
In retirement, Beebe plans on devoting more time to what he loves — hunting, fishing, camping and building a model railroad.
He also plans to volunteer with the city fire department.
“But it’s just not the same as being a career firefighter and going on all the calls,” Beebe said.
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