Local News

March 28, 2014

Collins to retire after more than 30 years as Whitfield fire chief

When Carl Collins joined the newly formed Whitfield County Fire Department in 1977, he says he only planned to volunteer for a few years.

“I joined because I wanted them to have a station out where we were on the Westside,” he said. “I thought I’d volunteer until they had something up and running pretty well, then I’d go back (to his family’s construction business).”

But as he got into firefighting, Collins found a passion.

“It wasn’t like anything I’d done before, and I just enjoyed every bit of it, the training, running calls, helping people out,” he said.

Just five years after joining the fire department, Collins became its chief, a position he has held for some 32 years. But Collins says it’s time for him to retire from the position, which he will do on May 30.

“I’ll be 65 in June, and up until the last year, I was still running calls and fighting fires on weekends and at night,” he said. “After more than 30 years of helping out other people, I think it’s time I concentrate on taking care of my family.”

Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb, who served as a volunteer firefighter under Collins in the 1980s, praised Collins for his work.

“We really appreciate everything he has done,” Babb said. “The county has only had two fire chiefs. Pete Gunn was the chief when (the fire department) was founded back in 1977, and then Carl became chief. But if we live long enough, all of us will have to retire someday, and I think Carl has given us quite a lot of service to be thankful for.”

Collins has seen many changes over his time with the fire department.

“The turnout gear we have now is 10 times better than what we had when I started. It’s lighter. There’s more protection. In fact, all the equipment is better,” he said.

But Collins said the biggest change happened about 15 years ago when Dalton Utilities and the Board of Commissioners extended water, and fire hydrants, out into the county. Before that, county firefighters drove big tankers filled with water to the site of a fire.

“It could be frustrating. I’ve been on a lot of fires that we had just nearly knocked down and we’d run out of water. And by the time another tanker got there, it (the fire) would have flared back up and we’d have to knock it down again,” he said. “Getting pressurized water really helped us do our jobs. It made it safer for the firefighters, and it’s better for the homeowners and business owners.”

The county is advertising the position of fire chief on its website, www.whitfieldcountyga.com.

Collins said he plans to devote more time to his family’s cattle farm after he retires.

“My mom and dad are in their 80s. They are in good health, but they aren’t getting any younger. And dad isn’t able to do as much as he used to on the farm,” he said.

Collins said that being able to work on the farm on weekends is one of the things that has “kept me sane” over the years.

“That has really seemed more like a hobby to me than a job, “ he said. “I think it’s time to do some things that I want to do and not have to worry about being available to run calls or any of that.”

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