This piece is written by guest blogger, Michael Landress of the Beach Beach Fire Department.
In early 2007, Rescue No. 4 (C-Battalion) responded to a medical emergency in the southeast portion of the city just north of Woolbright Road. Upon arrival, they found an elderly male patient named James Irvin Lacey in slight distress and complaining of chest pain.
As our paramedics performed their assessment and initiated treatment, the eighty-eight year old man exclaimed he was once a fireman for the Town of Boynton Beach. He was then transported to JFK Medical Center, where he was treated and released several weeks later.
When I was presented this information by the crew, I began to research the gentleman’s claim. With a little digging through some dusty boxes I discovered that indeed, James I. Lacey was a volunteer fireman with our department. He started his career in 1945 and retired during the early 1960s. I called Mr. Lacey and explained that I was working on a chronological history book for our fire department and asked if he would be receptive to a visit. He agreed, but said not to arrive before 1pm. As he exclaimed; “I like to sleep in.”
As I knocked on the door and waited, I couldn’t help but think of the memories he may share. I was about to step back in time of our fire department’s history and gather valuable tidbits of information from that era in an effort to enhance the project. Aside from the memoirs of A.R. Cook [an original founding member], there really was no information in the city’s archive regarding the early years of our fire department.
When the door finally opened, a shirtless, wiry, old man was standing there and welcomed me in. He offered me a seat and first spoke of his house — a quaint old Florida block home he purchased in the 1950s. He talked about his lovely wife who passed away in the early 1980s and he explained that he left everything, including the décor, just as it had been when she died — he never remarried.
He was then eager to share memories of the fire department and we spent the next two and a half hours talking shop. Once James began to reflect and speak, he was unstoppable. I could see the gleam in his weary eyes when he recalled something humorous. He would crack a smile and shake his head. He boasted with clarity of the Jungle Inn fire of 1946 [his fondest firefighting memory], and spoke of the Kwik Chek grocery store blaze in 1961.
James mentioned the countless motor vehicle accidents that occurred on Federal Highway and he spoke of the wonderful personalities of his coworkers. Feverishly scribbling notes, there was just no way could I document all of his wonderful stories. Many of those unshared memories he would ultimately take to his final rest and that’s my only regret.
Just prior to finishing our conversation, James slowly lifted himself from his chair then shuffled down a narrow hallway and began rifling through a tiny closet. He emerged and slowly made his way back to the living room clutching a small plastic bag. He reached into the bag and brought forth a vintage 1940s era class “A” cap — complete with a tiny silver badge that read “Boynton Beach Fire Department.”
James donated the cap and it is now on display at Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department’s Fire Station No. 5. It was evident to this firefighter, that even after all these years, Fireman Lacey remained extremely proud of his tenure with our fire department.
James Irvin Lacey passed peacefully in 2010 at his home, just as he left it.
Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.
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