JONESBORO — Chief Kevin Miller brought a little perspective to the final days of Capt. Bill Findley’s 40 years of service to the Jonesboro Fire Department.
“We’ve been here for 121 years,” Miller said of the department. “You’ve been here for a third of them.”
Sunday is Findley’s last 24-hour shift. Because of safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city was unable to hold a large celebration to honor Findley’s career and service. But Findley, better known as “Mr. Bill,” didn’t really want one. In fact, he was reluctant to talk to reporters, but Miller said he deserved the acknowledgement from the community.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here. I just need another chapter,” Findley said Thursday before joining fellow firefighters for lunch.
“I’ll tell you this about Bill,” Miller said. “He’s been here longer than I have; I’ve been here 33 years, myself. Bill has been very quiet, very unassuming, never one of those to stand up and yell, ‘Look at me, look at me, I need the attention.’ But he’s always gone about his business. He’s always got the job done and he’s always been there. That’s the one constant I know over my last 30 years here.”
He’s proud to talk about the many advances that have been made in public safety in the past 40 years. He’s reluctant to speak of individual incidents along the way.
Findley, 61, joined the department, first as a dispatcher, in early 1980 following his discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I just like to help being helpful, service to others,” Findley said of his motivation 40 years ago. “If there’s a problem, people call us to try to take care of it. We’re just out there for the public. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s kind of hard to put into words. We can roll up and somebody’s gotten injured, or their baby. They’re going to open their doors and welcome you in. You’re there to help them, and they have trust in me.”
Findley refuses to talk about individual situations he has encountered over his long career.
“People will come to you and they’ll ask you, ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever saw,’” he said. “It still registers in my mind, but do you want it to run through your mind? It’s something that I just kind of keep to myself.”
When Findley went to work in 1980, the U.S. Census Bureau said Jonesboro’s population was 31,530 over 35 square miles. It was served by 60 firefighters with five fire stations and six frontline engines, Miller said. They made 680 runs that first year. Today, 120 firefighters serve an estimated 78,394, by the census bureau’s 2019 estimate. The city now covers 82 square miles, served by seven fire stations. Those firefighters answered the call more than 6,000 times last year, Miller said.
“Since Bill’s been hired, there have been 213 firefighters who have come and gone through this place since he’s been here. Some have come, got hired after him, finished his career, retired and moved on. Some are still here.”
Even the new station he was assigned to on Wood Street has been retired for a few years, now.
Many of today’s firefighters weren’t even born when Findley went to work, Miller said. Some are younger than his own children, Findley said.