After 30 years of service, Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue Department's first secretary, Carol Whitaker, retired on Monday, July 1.
Prior to Whitaker's employment, there had never been a secretary hired. The "Chief of Staff," as it was called back then, took care of most of the administrative items according to Whitaker.
"I was eager to take on the challenge," said Whitaker, "and honored that they trusted me to do the job."
After joining the department in 1988, Whitaker found out that her grandfather, Horton Dayton Smith, was once Fire Chief of Murfreesboro Fire Rescue (from 1914 until 1918). His picture is now displayed at Fire Administration. Smith resigned to fight in World War I. "It has been a pleasure to follow his legacy by being employed by the City of Murfreesboro."
During her career, Whitaker worked under three Fire Chiefs, one Chief of Staff, and three Deputy Chiefs. "With each change in leadership, the department progressed more and more," she said. When she started in 1988, there were only around 68 employees on shift and on staff, and there were a total of five fire stations. The department now has over 240 positions and will soon have a total of 11 fire stations when Station 11 is completed on Blaze Drive sometime in 2020. Whitaker mentioned the advancement of the Training Division as it pertains to suppression and medical training. "I've seen growth in this department with the addition of emergency medical responders, EMTs, paramedics, and paramedic instructors. We now have the finest fire equipment and engine companies."
Whitaker, who retired as an Administrative Aide II, has seen many people come and go. She estimated being around for approximately 316 personnel hired, 272 promotions, and 240 or so retirements, terminations, or resignations. Unfortunately, she has also experienced the death of 47 of her coworkers over the years.
When asked what she expects to see happen with MFRD in the next 5-10 years, Whitaker commented on the growth of the city as a whole and as a result, anticipates more fire stations, more administrative staff, more educational involvement within the school systems, further progression in the Medical Division, and more training positions.
Though she was not on the front lines of the action, Whitaker often felt the stress of a working fire scene. One particular incident she cannot ever forget was a house fire on Van Cleve Lane off of Broad Street. "The water was freezing as soon as it began flowing toward the house," she said. "The firefighters also had frozen water on their facemasks, gloves, and turnout gear. Chief David Baxter and staff began calling around buying all the gloves and hoods they could from area businesses to make sure that firefighters would have dry gloves and hoods to change into."
A small celebration with family and friends was held in Whitaker's honor on June 21 at Fire Administration. "Carol has been very dedicated to this department for many years," said Fire Rescue Chief Mark Foulks. "It's going to be quite different when you walk through the front door without her sitting to your left. We wish her all the best in her retirement."
Whitaker's plan is to travel more, including visiting her son, Brandyn, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She also looks forward to sharing the responsibility of caring for her younger sister, Amanda, and helping friends with their elderly parents when needed. She might even volunteer for some local organizations!
"The greatest thing about working at MFRD has always been the people…my coworkers, contacts with other city, county, and state departments, and the public," said Whitaker. Whitaker will miss her friends, but knows she will remain a MFRD family member for life.