Oldest living member of Lexington Fire Dept. looks back on station’s 150 history

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 11:14 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - For 150 years, the people of Lexington have called on the members of the Lexington Fire Dept. to come to their rescue in an emergency.

The brave men and women always run toward the danger to save lives. Their sacrifice doesn’t go unnoticed, and was formally recognized Thursday by the Lexington-Fayette County Urban County Government.

One man who was honored is Major Orville Cook. He served for 28 years with the department, the largest in Kentucky, from the 1950s to the 1980s. At 91, Cook is the oldest living member of the fire department. He says since his days, the industry is very different, and safer.

“Equipment was rather bad, until NASA came into being,” Cook recalled. “Some of the things that they developed certainly helped the fire service. Breathing apparatus for one. The coats that we now wear can turn a lot of heat. Before, it was just plain ole canvas with a piece of rubber under it.”

Cook says he can talk all day about his time with the department, the memories he made, friendships he formed, and lives he was a part of saving.

“One in particular, a fellow was underground for an hour and five minutes....and we dug this man out. It took us until 4:00 the next morning to get him out, because it was caving in. The man is walking the streets today, and that was one of my greatest thrills.”

However, Cook’s greatest legacy is something that lives on to this day. He played an instrumental role in getting a flawed pension system fixed for decades of firefighters to come.

“It’s a shame the way it was years ago. When I came in the department, a widow could draw $50 a month. They were expected to live off it, and that got in my craw. I’m not the only one that worked on that pension believe me. There was committee there that dedicated themselves and sometimes went out on a limb, but we got it passed. These guys are drawing a terrific pension, and should.”

The department has several events to mark the 150th anniversary of the department, including a parade through downtown Sunday evening at 6:00.

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