After 50 total years of service, George Houston, a 25-year veteran of the Roanoke-Wildwood Volunteer Fire Department, is retiring at the end of the year.
Houston, originally from New York, spent 25 years as a volunteer at Hillside Lake Fire Company in East Fishkill, N.Y. He retired almost 30 years ago from UPS as a driver and moved to Lake Gaston to escape the upstate New York weather.
“I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I always passed this little two-bay fire house on my walk to school,” said Houston, about how he got started in the fire service. “I would talk to the guys, and back in those days, you had to be at least 5’7” to join, so I didn’t even think about it. I got away from it after I graduated and went a different way.”
Houston moved his family to Westchester County N.Y. after changes in his neighborhood and was introduced to volunteer firefighting by his real estate agent. “It was the furthest thing on my mind,” he said. “I didn’t know what a volunteer fireman was, everyone was paid in the city, but he talked me into it.”
“I recently started thinking back to when I was a kid hanging out in that two-bay firehouse in Brooklyn,” said Houston. “Thinking about how things come around in a circle.”
Houston says there wasn’t much of a difference between the Hillside Lake Fire Department and Roanoke-Wildwood VFD when he moved here.
“It’s a small, rural fire department. The first time I went out to the bay, I looked at these two trucks and I thought I was back in my old firehouse. They had the same two identical trucks down to the year, make, and model, like they were twins. ‘You have a qualified driver if nothing else,’ I said to the firemen showing me around,” Houston said.
Roanoke-Wildwood VFD still has one of those two trucks.
Houston is planning on staying in the Roanoke-Wildwood VFD auxiliary.
“We were so poor back in the early days, if it wasn’t for the auxiliary, we wouldn’t be where we are. We’ve come a long way. We have some of the best equipment and the best people,” he said.
Houston was briefly the acting chief around 1999 or 2000. He spent about five years as the assistant chief, and acted as the safety officer from 2005-2013.
Roanoke-Wildwood VFD Chief Lorenzo Wilkins said that the company will recognize Houston at its annual Christmas dinner.
“I want to thank him for his years of service. He came to us from another fire company and jumped right in and was a big contributor in his younger years holding several titles,” Wilkins said. “He has been very helpful in the past few years helping in the auxiliary.”