When I was about 10 years old, my friends and I often walked from our Henry Johnson School neighborhood on the west side of town along Market Street to the downtown district. We occasionally stopped at Fire Station #4 adjacent to the Leon Ferenbach plant to chat with our fire fighting heroes. These courageous men took time to befriend us rather than shoo us away as pests (which we were).
During one visit, we met a young nice looking fireman, whose name I would later learn was Clarence Eades. I believe he worked at the Walnut Street station. Over the years, I followed his climb up the advancement ladder to driver, captain, assistant chief and fire training instructor for the Vocational School before being named to the top job. He succeeded Ed Seaton in 1972 and held that position for 13 years.
Clarence’s accolades included being appointed by Governor Winfield Dunn to the state’s first Commission on Firefighting Personnel Standards and Education in 1974, honored as the “Most Dedicated City Employee” in 1975, established the local Public Safety Officer Program and had the public safety station at the corner of Cherokee Road and University Parkway named for him in 1980.
On the occasion of his retirement on December 14, 1985, Robin Cochran, a Johnson City Press-Chronicle staff writer, interviewed the fire chief concerning his thoughts on retirement after a highly successful 44-year career. “One of the hardest things for me to do is every time that the telephone rings at home, I expect the worst,” he said. “They call me when there’s a problem.”
The Bristol native was emphatic that he would remain in touch with his profession that occupied a major part of his life for more than four decades. “If you spend two-thirds of your life in it, you’re bound to miss it,” he said.
Eades began his career with the department as a volunteer for several months before being hired as a fireman. In the 1920s, his father worked as a volunteer fireman in the city. “I guess (watching my father) running to fires rubbed off on me,” said Clarence.
During Eades’ tenure with the fire department, he saw it become fully equipped. When he was a young fireman, the department’s trucks carried about 65 gallons of water as compared to the 750-gallon newer ones. “We didn’t have masks and you were lucky if you could find a helmet to wear,” he said. He firmly believed that before he left, Johnson City was as well equipped as any in the country.
Framed and hanging on the wall of Eades’ office were two signs that epitomized his life: “A great deal of talent is lost in this world from the want of a little courage.” “The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.” He said that he always tried to keep these two things in mind as he performed his job.
Eades had plenty of ideas about what he would do with his retirement time. He hoped to continue working with area volunteer fire departments, something he had done for years. “I thank the world of volunteer firemen for the dedication and loyalty they have to the community,” he said. “I admire them. I hope to be able to get in more time working with them after I retire.
Although Eades enjoyed his career in firefighting, he said he might have missed his calling by not being a truck driver. “I can get behind the wheel and drive and drive,” he said. But unlike the routes truck drivers travel, Eades preferred not to drive on the main highways.
Clarence Eads was granted a little over seven years to accomplish his retirement aspirations. Although the former fire chief passed away on Feb. 14, 1992 at age 72, he left behind a rich heritage to the city.