Waitsfield, Vermont -- December 30, 2011
Sharlia and Delbert Palmer have been married for 53 years and during that entire time they've awoken to a familiar sound: the scanner. It's hard to get away from it, but they don't mind. Delbert has been a firefighter in Waitsfield for 60 years, 23 as chief.
"I wasn't prepared to throw away shoes, socks, underwear," says Delbert's wife, Sharlia. "He stayed outdoors... stripped!"
That was in the distant past when firefighters didn't have gear and the pungent smell of smoke lingered.
One day having an itch to go on a call, she got educated in the fire business. It was an inferno. In an instant, much of the building collapsed.
"There was part of the building standing and he opened up a door and he was in a closet. I never went again," she said.
Mrs. Palmer never went again, but it hasn't stopped Delbert. Fire tones in the Palmer household are so common that even the dog knows the drill.
"She comes right up, stands right up, she knows," Delbert says.
It's a mile and a half from Delbert's house to the fire station; he could do it in his sleep. In his estimation, he's gone on 4000 calls, from chimney fires to car accidents.
"If you are really dedicated it's a second home," firefighter Bob Burbank says.
The fire department has 24 members, mostly men. Much has changed since Delbert started in the department; the trucks are bigger and the training is thorough.
"This came in 44, I came in 51," he says of one truck.
Nowadays it's only used in parades.
Technology has definitely changed since Delbert's been with the fire department, now there's another change. After six decades with the fire department, he's retiring. Something that happened up the road was the tipping point.
"I think that bad accident we had, kind of, OK, it's time. I don't need to see any more of it," he says.
A minivan and a truck had collided. A grandmother and her two grandchildren were killed. By all accounts it was a horrific scene and Delbert knew the family.
"At my age it's a young man's department," says Delbert.
Palmer, who's 77, doesn't plan to fade away from the department. He will be helping out at the scenes, just more in the shadows and away from the flames.
PO Box 4508