Nashville District Fire Chief Bobby Connelly wrapped up his 53-year career at the department Thursday with one last fire and one more life saved.
Things have changed a lot since he first put on his helmet and gear in 1959. Connelly just needed a job, but he instead found a way of life.
"'Wow' or the word 'awesome' would be the way to explain it," Connelly said.
The district chief helped extinguish his last fire Thursday, covered in soot.
That's been the norm for 53 years on the job, during which time he's had walls collapse on him and lost his mother in a nursing home fire in 2003.
However, he's also had the satisfaction of saving countless lives. Thursday, he rescued a trapped dog.
"When the fire service started out, Benjamin Franklin said it was to save lives and property, and that hasn't changed," Connelly said.
But the 75-year-old has seen some changes for the better.
"With all the hydraulic tools, you can get someone out of the car in a minute, where it took 30 minutes to an hour," he said.
Years of sacrifice show on his helmet, and just ask any of his colleagues who would tell you Connelly is a fearless legend. But, for him, the credit all goes to his fellow firefighters for giving him his best memories.
"A lot of people say 'extended family,' but they are my immediate family," Connelly said. "If one's had good luck, we've all had good luck. And you can't buy and sell that. And you don't get that in just a regular job."
Connelly already has a plan when he misses that next fire call.
"I may get a job with one of the TV stations and carry the camera for them," he said, laughing.
Another footnote to history: Connelly is the last remaining active duty firefighter among those who responded to the fire that destroyed the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville on Christmas Day in 1961.
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