Longview Fire Department 'No. 1 Driver' retires
By by Peggy Jones pljonesnews-journal.com
May 3, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Longview Fire Department's "No. 1 Driver" Steve Mauldin retires today.
"That was always the persona that came with who Steve Mauldin was," said Fire Chief J.P. Steelman. "He was the No. 1 driver in the fire department. His retirement will leave a void. He's a guy who's made the most of the position he's in as the driver of a ladder truck. He exemplifies the responsibilities of a fire driver."
Fire Marshal Johnny Zackary said much the same. Mauldin is the No. 1 driver, Zackary said, which technically means, at the time he tested for the driver position, Mauldin had the highest score.
"It's kind of a play on words," the fire marshal said. "He was No. 1 during this testing process, but his performance was also No. 1. He's just outstanding, easy going; he took care of his equipment; had great pride in the fire department. And he mentored a lot of fellow officers through the years."
Mentoring comes natural to Mauldin. He grew up on a firetruck.
His father, James Mauldin, was fire chief of Hallsville from around 1966 to 1982, Mauldin remembers.
"I grew up riding on the trucks. I can remember as far back as 1968 going to calls, sitting on the front seat, and my feet wouldn't touch the floor. I could barely see over the hood of the truck and the guys would tell me to move – that my legs were in the way of shifting gears."
Even in high school, Mauldin was allowed to leave school to help fight fires in Hallsville. The department was short-staffed, he recalled; so when he turned 16, he and other qualified students were allowed to leave school, help fight a fire – then go back to class."
He attended Texas A & M fire school four times – in 1975, 1976, 1978 and again in 1980 and joined the Longview Fire Department in 1978.
"I left in 1981 and went to the oil fields. But I turned right around and came back just as quick as I could. I knew that wasn't for me," Mauldin said.
He returned and he never considered leaving again - until now.
"It's time," he said. "I can do the work, but it's a younger man's game."
At the end of his career, Mauldin looks back with two strong emotions.
"All the guys I work with – I will miss them. I mean, we'll still see each other but you won't have that closeness that you have when you work together. And, I enjoy helping people. We help people when they are at their worst – they have to call someone and they usually call us. It could be simple or it could be life-threatening. I have enjoyed doing that and I will miss it."
He leaves with a heavy heart – knowing he has loved what he did and the people he did it with for more than 30 years.
"Back in the day – when I started – it wasn't cool to be a fireman. There were no movies like Ladder 49 or Back Draft. It wasn't high profile. It was a simpler day – we didn't do the EMS part. It was strictly fighting fires. When the EMS came along, that allowed us to help citizens even more."
What's better about the profession today?
"The technology," he said. "Everybody coming in has to be certified to be a paramedic now. The advances in equipment and special skills. We (Longview Fire Department) have guys who are specialized in all kinds of areas."
Like hazardous materials, he said. And high angle rescue; swift water rescue.
"This department is always looking for a better way to serve the citizens. It's really a pro-active department and they've got guys who can do anything."
Most memorable moments on the job?
There are too many, he said, over the span of 33 years. But one thought sticks out:
"Any time you leave the station, going to a call and you can see smoke from the station, your heart rate gets going in a whole different gear. You change your train of thought right away when you see the smoke."
So many memories he leaves behind.
The grandfather is sad, but excited, too.
"I have so much I've been trying to do for so long."
Mauldin is an avid photographer and he loves to ride his bike.
"I always said, I wasn't going to retire to do something else – I was going to retire to fish and ride."
But, Mauldin concedes – he might work, doing something. He just might.
Mauldin leaves the department as part of an elite group of firefighters who served for more than 30 years.
His retirement reception is at 2 p.m. today, at the Longview Training Facility on American Legion Boulevard. The public is welcome to attend, Zackary said.