OFR history is rich, full of heroics

Back in 1988, when Odessa Fire Chief Bill Childress was retiring, the old-timers got to talking about his time with the department and that of his predecessor, Charlie Meadows, who served from 1944 to 1962. No one knew who predated Meadows.

John Taylor decided to rectify that.

Taylor joined the Odessa Fire Department in 1979 after serving four years as a Navy corpsman and was a bit of a history buff.

The first thing he did was hit the library to research old Odessa American articles on microfiche.

Almost immediately, the native Odessan was hooked.

“Kind of like when you read the Bible, you go back in time and picture yourself as David slaying Goliath. When you read newspaper articles from the ‘20s or ‘30s you can almost visualize what it was like then,” Taylor said.

The more stories he heard, the deeper he dove into the research.

“When you first get on the fire department, you hear these old-timers talking about the big fires they fought and while I was researching those stories they told me about, I would put them in a (binder) and then whatever pictures I had of those fires I would put them with the newspaper article.”

Every spare moment he had, Taylor was looking through old newspaper articles or interviewing long-retired firefighters.

His obsession for history resulted in the 2005 creation of a website dedicated to Odessa Fire Department history, ofdhistory.org. Although he retired in 2006, he pushed on and on May 4, he published a 533-page history book on Amazon. The book contains more than 1,000 photos and news articles dating from 1927 to 2011, when the OFD changed its name to Odessa Fire Rescue.

It was while he was researching OFD chiefs in ‘88 that he conducted his first interview.

“One of the firemen that was our battalion chief was Norman Price. Well, his dad was one of our first volunteer firemen from 1927 and his dad was still alive,” Taylor said. “Norman set up a deal where I could visit with his dad, who was in his ’80s, and talk with him. I wound up putting together a video documentary because I met other former firefighters from the ’20s and ’30s, the ’40s and ’50s and so on.”

He borrowed a lot of photographs from those men and Bill Shoopman, a local freelance photographer, took pictures of those pictures for him, Taylor said.

“I’ve always been a history buff on American history and Texas history and once I started meeting these old-timers and seeing their pictures, I just fell in love with the department and I wanted to preserve it,” Taylor said.

Initially, he thought he’d just type up the department’s history in chronological order and print out a copy for the city to keep. It turned out it was going to cost him $1 a page and he’d collected 300 pages’ worth of history.

At the suggestion of some friends, he decided to look into actually publishing his research as a book. When publishers wanted at least $20,000 up front, he turned to Amazon.

Although it took a lot of time and effort to get it into the format and length Amazon wanted, Taylor was finally successful. He then had a trio of friends, Pat and Linda Land and Dale Land, go through the book to look for misspelled words and other errors.

Pat Land spent more than 39 years with OFR before retiring as a battalion chief Dec. 25, 2019. His brother, Dale, also retired from the department after serving 29-30 years.

Land said over the years he and others were glad to help Taylor with this research, whether it was helping identify the folks in the photos, collecting articles or proof-reading.

“It’s pretty cool. I like that kind of stuff, though. I think a lot of firemen if they have traditional value appreciate that kind of stuff, the history,” Land said. “Of course our dad (Doyle) was a fireman in Midland and we have several other firefighters in our family.”

When asked if he was particularly proud of anything within OFR’s history, Taylor said he’s proud of all of it.

“We seem to be leaders. We were the first in the state to have 911. We were the first in the state to have the Jaws of Life. We were the second or third in the state to have a paramedic program and we were the first in the United States to have sonograms on our ambulances,” Taylor said. “We’ve really led in a lot of areas that you wouldn’t think a small town would lead in.”

Land also pointed out OFR was on the cutting edge in one other area as well.

“When you get back into the ‘60s and I guess the ‘70s, the old field training was huge. People came from all over the world,” Land said. “It was unique training that took place.”

Anyone with an interest in Odessa history will enjoy the book, not just firefighters, Land said.

Taylor is so proud of the department, he’s waived all of his royalties.

“I was trying to keep the price of the book as low as I could so people can afford it,” Taylor said. “A lot of your retired firefighters, they’ve got pensions where they can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a history book…I didn’t write the book to make a profit. I wrote it to preserve our history.”

The retired firefighter also wants people to know he’s got an arrangement with Amazon that will allow him to add the names of unidentified people in his book in the future.

“If anybody reads the book and they recognize a family member, they can send me an email that says, ‘That’s my uncle. That’s my great grandfather’ and I will add that to any future books,” Taylor said.

Taylor also hopes to come out with his second OFR history book in 2027, when the department will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff already,” he said.

Would you like one?

  • If you’d like your own copy of Odessa Fire Department History Book 1927-2011, visit Amazon.com.
  • Amazon List Prices: Hardcover $80.48 and Paperback $72.73.
  • If you would like to identify anyone in John Taylor’s book, email him at [email protected]