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No mystery in this history

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PAST AND PRESENT:In the Indiana Room of the Marion Public Library’s Carnegie Building, Capt. Paul Thompson III, left, and retired firefighter Steve Collins talk about the collected history of the Marion Fire Department.
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HISTORY, CONDENSED:The Historical Biographies of the Marion, Indiana, Fire Department contains information on Marion’s firefighters.

BY Brian Powers - bpowers@chronicle-tribune.com

Ask almost any fire service worker across the country what they take most seriously, other than saving life or personal property, and a common response is one word – tradition.

Tradition is not merely a word to those in the fire service; it is a driving concept.

Enter retired firefighter Steve Collins and active firefighter Captain Paul Thompson III of the Marion Fire Department.

Stored in the Indiana Room at the Carnegie Building of the Marion Public Library are four binders documenting the history of Marion Fire Department’s personnel.

Stemming from a DVD slide presentation at the 2012 Retiree’s Banquet, Collins and Thompson teamed up to create a tangible, condensed history of their department.

“In 2013, I came to Paul because he had an interest in the history as well,” Collins said.

The binders, arranged alphabetically, contain tidbits of information of each firefighter who has worked for MFD since 1876.

In 2013, Collins said he spent June to December sifting through various physical records while Thompson rifled through digital files dating all the way back to the 1980’s.

The pair works diligently at keeping the records updated. Changes happen on a fairly frequent basis, rather it be updated photos, death or the addition of a new member.

“There were times that were difficult, but Paul would pat me on the shoulder and soothe me,” Collins said.

While tradition is a concept firefighters are deeply rooted in, just as important is the history behind it.

“We are just trying to simply preserve the history of a department that’s 141 years old,” Thompson said.

According to the partners, the books currently consist of 232 firefighters, of which 137 are retired, 65 are on disaability and 30 died while active.

In 2014, just a year after the idea of the firefighter books came to fruition, Collins and Thompson embarked on another aspect of the project: a hall of fame.

The MFD Hall of Fame book is held in the department’s headquarters on Branson Street. Both men said the book is available for the public to come in and look through.

The inaugural HOF inductees were V.O. McNair, who served from 1906-1958, and John Copeland, who is now 96 years old.

In order for a firefighter to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, criteria must be met. Such criteria include having to have four years away from active service, significant time on the job and achievements during their time in service, whether those be heroics, improvements to the department or community service.

Each year, at the Retiree’s Banquet in the summer, another four to seven firefighters are added to the Hall of Fame. The 2018 inductees will be different, however, because Collins and Thompson brought in previous inductees to help nominate and decide who will receive the recognition.

Collins retired in 1994 and Thompson is still active, with 29 years of service under his belt. Both remain humble as neither is willing to admit they deserve a place amongst the HOF recipients.

Although they are not allowed to be taken out of the room, the men urge visitors to flip through the pages of the past and present of the Marion Fire Department.