(Editor’s note: In the recent Lake and River Magazine, several of the County Fire Departments were featured. Unfortunately, due to page limits, not all of the stories were published in the magazine. The stories that did not make it in the magazine will be featured in The Sun Times over the next week.)
Firefighters in our County go well above and beyond the call of duty to protect the community. They do this without paid compensation (other than a small payment for showing up at a fire), and many times, without so much as a thank you. In an effort to inform the community about the area departments, the Lake and River magazine featured several of the departments in the recent edition. The ones that were not included in the magazine still deserve recognition so The Sun Times will run those pieces in the paper, over the next week. We begin with a piece that honors two former firefighters, who meant a lot to this community, Doug Deckard and Charlie Johnson.
Remembering Doug Deckard and Charlie Johnson
If you talk to any longtime firefighters in Cleburne County, two names will consistently be mentioned, reverently, over and over. They are Doug Deckard and Charley Johnson. While Doug was killed during the flooding of 2017, Charlie’s life was taken by a man over a dispute, the loss of both of these men, is felt by this community and the firemen and women who serve it.
From The Sun Times on May 3, 2017
The events of the weekend tragically claimed the life of one Cleburne County resident. According to available reports, Cove Creek- Pearson Fire Chief Doug Deckard was out checking water lines at approximately 4 a.m. Sunday morning on Highway 25 South, north of the Faulkner County line, when a vehicle ran off the road and struck him. The preliminary report by the Arkansas State Police states the road conditions were wet and there was heavy rain at the time. At the time of this writing, there was no information available as to whether the weather was the cause of the driver running off the road.
"I had just left Doug," said Holmes. "He and I had worked together over here on the Cadron Creek bridge. He and I cleaned the debris off the bridge and the next thing I knew, I had received the call about his be- ing hit. Doug was just invaluable to the community. Anytime there was anything going on in the community, Doug was out trying to see what he could do to help any- body. The Cove Creek-Pearson Fire Department is a reflection of how important he was to the community. Not only a great person, but a vast amount of knowledge has left our community."
From Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s column on May 10, 2017
And over several days, I learned at least seven Arkansans had died in storm-related incidents, including firefighter Doug Deckard, who was chief of the Cove Creek Pearson Fire Department.
Chief Deckard was killed on Saturday when a car struck him as he inspected water lines along Arkansas 25.
Thursday was International Firefighters Day, and Chief Deckard’s death reminds us of the risks that our first responders take to keep us safe. When civilians are fleeing from harm, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and forestry firefighters are running headlong into danger. They often are the first to arrive, and most of the time, they don’t know exactly what they are about to face.
Sometimes, as Chief Deckard’s death reminds us, the difference between a routine call and high danger is nothing more than a rain-slick highway. Deckard was the Cove Creek/Pearson Chief for 20 years.
In the March 9, 2018 edition of The Sun Times it reports that the man who shot Charlie Johnson, and his wife Candy, was sentenced to: Life without the possibility of parole on count one Capital Murder, Life on count two, Attempted Capital Murder, 20 years on count three, Possession of Firearms by Certain Persons and on count four commercial burglary he sentenced him to 10 years. Johnson served with the Tumbling Shoals/Ida Fire Department. His turnout gear was used in the Charlie Johnson Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser Car Show.
Charlie Johnson was a member of the Tumbling Shoals/Ida Fire Department for around six years. Johnson’s passion was responding to fires to help his community. His wife, Candy said that the greatest compliment he ever received was when someone would stop by The Print Shop that they owned and thank him for his service to the community. He was such a dedicated husband, father and grandfather and yet still found time to be dedicated to the fire department and his community. Fire Chief Mike Kirkpatrick said, “The hardest day for our department was when we lost Charlie Johnson.”
Both of these men meant a lot to the Cleburne County Firefighters and are sorely missed.
Cove Creek-Pearson honors Doug Deckard
The Cove Creek Pearson Fire Department was founded in 1989. On the day of its first meeting the Swinging Bridge collapsed. They left the meeting and headed towards the Swinging Bridge. It took until 1990 to get everything set up and start responding to calls. The department started with a 1,000 gallon tanker and one engine, a 1961 Ford. The 1961 Ford stayed in service until 2010, when it was sold. Department Chief Jeremy McClung bought the truck, so he could keep it in the district.
Cove Creek-Pearson has a district of 50 square miles over 1,600 properties and runs about 200 calls per year. They currently have about 25 firefighters, including four women. One of the women is the EMS Captain.
CCP has three stations, four engines, four tankers, four brush trucks and two rescues. The main station is on Highway 16, they have one in Diamond Bluff area and one in the South Shore area.
“We meet every Thursday night. Just about every meeting we eat together. Someone from the department will cook. Our meal together is a great way for us to hang out, build camaraderie, laugh with each other, grow together and be a family,” McClung said.
Like a family, McClung went on to say: “It’s not uncommon for kids of all ages to be at the firehouse when we are up there. The kids have their own playroom with toys and stuff to keep them entertained.”
Most firefighters have families and by having the kids and spouses come to the meetings it allows them to be able to participate on the fire department and still be with their family. By having the kids around it sets an example for the next generation and teaches them about community and teamwork.
The success of the fire department rests upon the firefighters, the community and the board of directors. For a fire department to continue to grow, become more successful and better at the job, it takes everyone working together, not just one person.
They completed County wide joint tanker shuttle training in January.
McClung joined Cove Creek Pearson Fire Department in June, 2007, after moving here from Oklahoma with his family. He became Chief two years ago, after the tragic death of Doug Deckard. McClung says one of the reasons the CCP is where it’s at today is because of Deckard. Deckard was Chief for 20 years.
“He was the driving force behind the department. We never thought that there would be a day that he wasn’t there.” McClung served as Assistant Chief at that time. He told the department when he became Chief that he would never be able to fill Doug’s shoes, and he could only do what he could do and only do it the way he knew how to do it. Having Doug as a teacher and a mentor helped him a lot. It helped him prepare to be Chief now.
McClung’s philosophy is “To lead by example and try to empower and encourage others to do the best job they can do and fill those roles.”
“It takes everyone in the department to make that fire department. It takes everyone moving forward and it is everyone’s responsibility to be innovative and improving, finding new ways to do things. So we are constantly growing our fire department. I think ‘status quo’ is a dirty word,” McClung said. “By giving in to the status quo, because it’s always been done that way, we are doing a disservice to our community.”
“My wife and I have three kids, 19, 8 and 5. Along with being active in the Fire Department, I also attend New Life Church.” At New Life, he helps lead a couple of classes, one is Reboot combat recovery and the second is called Firstline recovery. Both classes are faith-based classes teaching how to deal with the wounds your soul gets going through something traumatic. Reboot is geared toward combat veteran and Firstline is geared towards first responders. His wife, Kristie is involved with The CALL and is a Quitman