Rankin marks 50 years of fire service
August 27, 2008 · Updated 5:45 PM
ARLINGTON Jim Rankin recently reached his two-year mark as chief of the Arlington Fire Department, but he was honored at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting for his 50 years of fire service.
Rankin began his career as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18, in response to a challenge by a friend.
He told me, If you dont like it, you can always quit, Rankin said. At the time my career goal was simply to become a full-time firefighter. By 1962, it had become my goal to be a fire chief. I was being interviewed by a fire chief for a position at his agency, when he asked me what my career goals were and I said, I want your job. I didnt want to kick him out, I just wanted to be a chief, too.
Rankin explained that this goal was made difficult by the fact that fire service agencies tended to promote from within when he started out as a firefighter.
You had to have extensive employment within that agency to be considered and the expected tenure for a fire chief was between 15-20 years, so I knew I was potentially looking at a long timeline.
During his years of service, Rankin has seen firefighting technology advance at a brisk pace, from engines that could pump 750-1,000 gallons of water a minute when he started, to ones than can pump 2,000-2,500 gallons a minute today.
You had to do a lot of approximate calculations, Rankin said. There were formulas for pump pressure, so that when you were trying to deliver the appropriate amount of water from a line, you had to manually adjust the valves so that you wouldnt bust the hose. Today, computer gauges tell you the gallons per minute.
Rankin credits the space age of astronaut-inspired technology with advancing the state of protective clothing. He added that the modern days of every firefighter having his or her own portable radio are a far cry from when he started, with only one radio in the engine and all other commands passed on through face-to-face relays.
When I started, all the nozzles were brass and the hoses had thick cotton jackets that you couldnt load wet, or else youd get mildew, that could weaken the hose, Rankin said. Now, theyre made from composite synthetics that dont wear out as fast. Even the firefighting foam no longer has a shelf life or a specialty, so you can use it any time on any type of material.
Rankin cited the increased amount of training and education that firefighters now receive, and takes pride in the number of firefighters hes been able to mentor. At the same time, he pointed to the investment of the citizens of his current hometown, firefighters and civilians alike.
The depth of commitment to service, of the people who live in this community, is amazing, Rankin said. All communities have some people who are involved, but so many people seem to come to Arlington out of love for its way of life. I would take any one of our firefighting crews over any other crew, and expect them to be as good or better.