Holbrook leaves legacy of service

Holly Springs Fire Chief Kenny Holbrook has retired after serving almost 39 years on the force.

He began as a volunteer part-time firefighter in 1979 and was hired as a career firefighter in August of 1980.

He is from a long family-line of firefighters. His father, the late Emmett Holbrook, and his uncle, James Asa Holbrook, were both firefighters. Emmett was in the fire service before Holbrook was born.

His brother Henry and his nephew Daniel, are volunteer firefighters ­ Henry in Holly Springs, and Daniel in Potts Camp.

Holbrook said growing up around firefighters and seeing their dedication to the community led him to "kind of fall in line."

He took over as interim chief in October 1993 and was appointed chief in July 1994 by former Holly Springs mayor Eddie Lee Smith.

His service as interim chief was a defining time for him personally. The ice storm of 1994 came in February, and the fire at city hall took place around New Year's Day.

Holbrook served 23 years as fire chief, during which time the department grew in numbers and in capacity to attack fires.

Holbrook said the year he came on as a volunteer, it was his first weekend to work, and he was on a call to a house fire where he helped put the fire out from a window. Then the mother ran up to him from the hedges and told him her baby was in the house. The baby was retrieved and survived burns. Holbrook said that one event "set the hook" in him to be a firefighter.

The service is family-oriented with a lot of father-son teams. It is the upholding of the community and the community's security that is a big factor in the decision to become a firefighter, he said.

"It is a group of dedicated individuals," he said. "I thank and hold gratitude for all the firefighters who worked with me and under my command. And I thank my family for all the missed meals and family events.

"Maybe with retirement, there won't be so many because of being called away to someone else's emergency."

Holbrook said under his tenure there was no loss of life or severe injuries to his team.

"We go into some of the most dangerous situations," he said. "It's not like what you see on TV. We go into a smoke-filled building and we are not sure we are going to come back out."

Some notable emergencies the fire service handled over the years, other than the fire at City Hall, include the house explosion on Cuba Street in which a small child was buried. Firefighters did not sleep until the baby was found safe under a pile of debris. Firemen lifted the debris piece by piece in order to find the "Miracle Baby."

A grain bin emergency where a man fell off into a pile of grain and was rescued after many hours of careful work was another miracle.

The fire at JB's Restaurant downtown was another big save because it was contained.

"It's a fine line you have to walk sometimes," Holbrook said."We've been able to stay on the cutting edge of technology. We had three thermal cameras when the entire city of Memphis had only two."

He was in fire service when the Jaws of Life came into use to extricate a person from entrapment in a vehicle. Holly Springs firefighters used the Jaws daily, he said.

"The board of aldermen allowed us to create a safer environment for other people and use the technology," he said. "We have good equipment and good support and we've been allowed to keep up with the advances in technology."

Holbrook said experience has been his best teacher over the last 39 years.

"It gave me an opportunity to touch a lot of people's lives," he said.

Holbrook said the fire department's job is to fix it.

"When somebody's having a bad day, our job is to fix it," he said. "I feel like the fire department has really done that and will continue to do that in my absence.

"It's been an enjoyable career and a rewarding career. You don't get rich at it. You don't stay long in this business unless your heart is in the right place. People don't know what these guys go through. People's lives are at stake and we've been able to make a difference."

Teaching

Holbrook enjoyed the teaching aspect of the business and has trained hundreds of firefighters over the last few years for the Mississippi Fire Academy. 

When Holbrook started, he had graduated from Holly Springs High School and gone to Emergency Medical Technician school. As it turned out, the fire department needed a certified EMT on staff to apply for a grant to get the Jaws of Life. 

"That's how I got in the fire service," he said. 

The department did not get the grant but the city and county purchased the Jaws of Life in 1979. 

Holbrook was also working at Carlisle's Big Star (now Cash Saver) and when the fire whistle went off they brought the wagon right through the parking lot and he would get on there. 

He said Carlisle's had also benefited from the fire service. Once when he was a teenager, they were cooking chicken at Carlisle's when the cooker blew up.

"They didn't mind me leaving work to go put out a fire," he said. 

It is the volunteer who becomes part of the backbone of the fire service, Holbrook said. 

"You've got to have that backup," he said. 

Some who have been volunteers since the beginning include James Richmond, Wallace Young and Henry Holbrook. These three came on within a year or two when Holbrook came on and they are still there as volunteers. 

There are volunteers with over 30 years, 20 years, 18 years, 10 years and five years. 

"Dedicated individuals have made it what it is," he said. "I've just been fortunate to be their leader. I'm still going to be here to help when I can. Knowledge is not going to disappear. 

"I thank them for the opportunity to serve and hope I have touched a life. Over the years there are a lot of ups and downs. It takes years to learn how to do this job. 

"Thanks, you guys. Take a bow. Your commitment to the service made my job so much easier."

Holly Springs South Reporter

P.O. Box 278
Holly Springs, MS 38635
PH: (662) 252-4261
FAX: (662) 252-3388
www.southreporter.com

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