Jerry Said began his firefighting career in 1968 in Memphis, but moved to the Bridgetown area of DeSoto County in 1973.
One day, while working in his backyard, he noticed thick black smoke rising from a nearby house on a hill. He got into a truck and drove off to see a two-story house completely engulfed in flames.
Sides asked a man who had also been to the scene if the fire brigade was on his way and was shocked to hear.
“He said, ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t think there is,” said Sides. “As it turned out, someone called and the nearest fire station was in Nesbitt, about five miles away at the time.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene in a 1935 Ford fire engine with only 55 gallons of water in the tank. All anyone could do was stand there and watch the house burn down.
Sides, shocked by what he witnessed, decides Bridgetown needs its own fire station. He and his group of friends talked and together in March 1976 started the Bridgetown Fire Department.
Sides was named the department’s first fire chief because he was the only person who knew which end of the hose the water was coming from and was the longest-serving fire chief in DeSoto County. .
At the department’s Christmas party, he announced the news that he would be retiring this year.
“It was an experience, but it’s just the right time,” said Sides. “I told her wife about it, but of course her idea was that it was 47 years too late.”
Sides said being a fire chief is a great honor. From his 9 firefighters who the Bridgetown Fire Department had to build their own equipment, he had 27 volunteers on the roster and all new he had Pierce firefighting equipment. DeSoto County’s best firefighter has seen him grow into one.
“We started with nothing,” Sides says. “There were a lot of people involved and we spent long nights working on the equipment. I bought my first truck in 1987 and found it in Illinois. Everything we had back then was built where the fire station used to be.
“Today we have a Class A Pierce pump. We have 1,000 gallons of water and a 1250 gallons per minute pump. We have a 2,500 gallon tanker. About a year and a half ago, we bought a new rescue truck. You can’t go anywhere in the world and buy better equipment than what we have… straight off the assembly line.”
The department went from a Class 10 rating (meaning virtually no fire protection) to a Class 6 homeowners insurance protection rating.
Sides said Bridgetown is in the planning stages of building a second fire station to cover the south side due to all the growth the area is experiencing.
“Unfortunately, that Class 6 only covers a five-mile radius from the fire station,” Sides says. “At the south end where we serve, there are people about eight miles from us, but just because they’re in a five-mile radius of the fire station, they’re class 10 and our neighbors are class 6. To do that, we’ll need to build another fire station at the south end, we started it, but to finish it and build the station and have the funds ready to equip it , will take another year.”
Sides said she loves being a firefighter. He remembers his first emergency call in Memphis, fresh out of the academy. It was a small electrical fire, but he learned something important that day – forget what he was taught in the classroom.
“That little electrical fire was the biggest thing in my mind at the time,” he said. I soon found out that they put everything aside because there’s always a captain who does it his way someone bigger than him tells them it’s the wrong way That’s the correct way to do it, unless you say otherwise.
On January 12th, Sides will hand over the iconic fire ax to his replacement, Steve Reeves. However, he remains on the radio and continues to answer calls in an advisory role.
“I have no intention of retiring completely,” Sides said. “I’ll stick around just to say I’m part of it. Firefighting is a special deal in your blood. I’ve been accused of being an old mother hen. I keep up with the guys.” If I had to start all over again, I wouldn’t change anything.”