Roy Fenwick, 96, is the oldest Alton Fire Department retiree. Jacob Iman, 23, is the department’s newest member. Together they represent a span of more than six decades of firefighting history from the time each started with the department.
ALTON | Reaching across generations to give the gift of one’s accumulated knowledge and experience is one the greatest legacies an individual can leave.
On May 24, the Retired Alton Firefighters Association recognized 96-year-old Roy Fenwick for his years of service as a firefighter to the Alton Fire Department.
An Arkansas resident, Fenwick returned to the area for the recognition event at the Alton Motor Boat Club in Godfrey. Also present for the occasion was 23-year-old Jacob Iman, the fire department’s newest member. Iman started with the department in March.
The evening consisted of ceremonies recognizing Fenwick as well as a dinner in his honor. Fire Chief Bernie Sebold presented Fenwick with a cake, a jacket with his name on it and a hat identifying him as a retired Alton firefighter.
Fenwick began with the department in 1952 when he, along with a team of other Alton firefighters, opened No. 5 Engine Company on Milton Road. Butch Rister, a retired Alton firefighter who worked with Fenwick, attended the event and talked about Fenwick’s service and the changes which have occurred in firefighting over the years.
“Roy started with the department back when the term ‘smoke eater’ was an accurate description of the job,” Rister says. “Self-contained breathing apparatus was not available. Firefighters had to go as far into the burning building as best they could and try not to breathe.”
Retiring in 1974 as a captain, Fenwick saw many changes during his time with the department. Open-cab fire trucks equipped with basic firefighting equipment evolved to modern, closed-cab, fully equipped pumpers.
Training and firefighting methods changed significantly over time and Rister says Fenwick always supported those changes.
“In the old days, firefighters basically had to know the layout of the streets and where the fireplugs were,” Rister explains. “Departments didn’t have the services and the technology they have today. Training today includes things like emergency medical services and high-rise firefighting techniques.”
Equipment has also advanced over the years. Air masks, nozzles and the pumping equipment have improved significantly. Rister says departments nowadays do much more than they used to and with fewer people.
“They’re very good,” he says.
In Fenwick’s firefighting days, communication was limited to radio transmission between the dispatcher and the fire truck.
“Once you were off the pumper, you had no radio communication,” Rister says.
Now, firefighters carry equipment as they battle fires, which allows them to remain in contact with people coordinating the firefighting event.
Rister says Fenwick was greatly respected by those who worked with and for him and that because of people like him, a long and rewarding career awaits people like Jacob Iman.
Together at the event, Fenwick and Iman represented a span of more than six decades of firefighting history from the time each started with the department.