Newsoms’ fire chief retiring after 26 years

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, January 2, 2013

NEWSOMS—After 26 years as the chief for Newsoms Volunteer Fire Department, Larry Fowler is resigning.

A new chief has been chosen. The name will be announced during the fire department’s annual banquet and installation of officers on Jan. 26 at the Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center. Fowler will remain on as assistant chief.

“I’ve had a great group to work with and I enjoyed every minute of it,” the 56-year-old Newsoms native said Friday. “I really want to thank the community for its support. Anytime we have a fundraiser, they are in full force.”

Ed Johnson, chief engineer with the department, said Fowler has been an excellent chief.

“He knows his job with his background and training,” Johnson said. “He’s got a lot of respect for his firefighters.”

Fowler’s resignation wasn’t surprising.

“We knew it was coming,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know when, but he’s talked about it for several years.”

Fowler joined the fire department at age 18.

“My father (William Fowler) was in the fire department and I just had a lot of friends and family (involved), and it just sparked my interest,” he said.

A 1974 Southampton High School graduate, Fowler received a degree in automotive technology from Nashville Auto Diesel College. He returned home to the family farm, where he worked until 1999. Fowler has been with Helena Chemical Co. for the past eight years.

Fowler served as lieutenant, captain and assistant chief before being appointed chief in 1986; 25 annual reappointments followed.

During his tenure, the most memorable “tragedy” he responded to was a head-on train crash along General Thomas Highway near Sunbeam Road in the 1990s.

“Two CSX (trains) somehow got crossed over and ended up on the same track at same time,” Fowler said. “One was running east, one running west, and they collided.”

The first to arrive on the nighttime scene, Fowler thought he was responding to a few derailed cars.

“When I pulled up on the scene, I was in awe,” he said. “Some 20 cars derailed, they had a fire and we had several personnel to fly out,” he said. “Some of them (the workers) stayed on the train and some jumped off.”

Fowler remembers eight injuries and no deaths, and rail cars in the middle of General Thomas Highway. Some cars were empty; others were transporting steel.

“Franklin came in and was put in charge of handling the rescue operation,” Fowler said.

Other memorable fires include a blaze that destroyed Newsoms Supermarket across from the post office and big mulch fires at Chapman Lumber on Fullers Mill Road between Newsoms and Boykins.

“We were able to contain (the supermarket fire) to the building, but the supermarket was destroy,” he said. “It was an old building and was so dry, and burned hot and fast.”

Fowler believes it’s time to hand over the reins, but will remain with the fire department.

“I will definitely miss it,” he said. “I just feel like it’s time for some of these younger guys to take over.”

“I’ve had a great group of men,” added Fowler, who noted six of the department’s firefighters are professional firefighters in Hampton Roads.

Fowler commended his wife, Tammy, for her support.

The couple are the parents of Pete Fowler, 32, of Franklin, who is a paid firefighter in Chesapeake, and Cherie Winstead, 28, of Wilson, N.C., a detective with the police department there. They also are the grandparents of Alexiah, 2; Gavin, 7; and Addison, 6 weeks.