COVINGTON, Ga. - Covington Fire Department Deputy Chief of Operations David Copeland called it a career Friday, retiring after 35 years of serving the city. He sat down with The Covington News Wednesday morning to talk about his time on the job.
Copeland said he moved to Georgia from Indiana at the suggestion of his brother after the steel mill where he was working shut down. He said his brother’s wife had taken a job as a school teacher here and his brother had been hired to be a Covington police officer.
“He called up and said, ‘Hey, would you like to be a fireman?’ I said, ‘Why not?’”
The veteran firefighter said he never planned to make CFD his life’s work, but being on the job changed his mind.
“I thought, well, this would be a good stepping stone for me,” he said. “But, man, once you get in it and the fire service gets in your blood, you can’t get it out.”
Copeland said he has seen many changes in his time with CFD. Among them is the way firefighters ride on the truck. He said when he started firefighters were still riding standing up on the back bumper, or tailboard of the truck.
“We did that for about the first six, eight months that I was here,” he said. “We came out of where the police department is now, that’s where the fire station was. I can remember the tracks where they jumped the Dukes of Hazard, every time we’d get a call and go over those tracks, your feet would come of that tailboard.”
He said his first call as a firefighter -a car wreck at the end of Clark Street with a person trapped -made an impression on him about what he wanted to do with his life. He said he had been on the job for about a week.
“We had a car down there they had wrapped around a tree. A girl was pinned in the backseat, her feet were pinned under the seat,” he said.
“There were T-tops in the car. They had started an IV and while they were using the Jaws (of Life) to get her out of the car, I laid, literally, on the back window, up over that T-top for about 20 or 30 minutes holding that IV bag. That was my job.
“It was really an eye opener, but doing stuff like that really got it into my blood.”
Copeland said he fought his first fire in the mill section of the city about three months after he started.
“It was called in as a kitchen fire and when we got there, it was rolling pretty good,” he said. “I thought man, we’re going in on this?”
Copeland said one of the memories he’ll take with him as he leaves is breaking his back when an aerial ladder truck turned over on Memorial Day in 1985 during pump testing on the truck at the water treatment plant.
“I had only been on the department a year and we decided to go over and test the pump. To test the pump you’ve got to draft water out. While we were there, we decided that we wanted to see how much friction loss we had in the piping going up so we set the ladder up,” he said.
“I’m in the bucket, there are two others in the bucket and we were up 100 feet, swinging it around, testing it. When we got over to the side over the water, it counterbalanced with us and it just came crashing down with us. It broke my back in two places.”
Copeland said he was in the hospital for about a week and back at work on desk duty about three weeks later.
Copeland said he was promoted to engineer in 1986 and rose through the ranks from lieutenant through battalion chief before being promoted to his current position in 2016.
He expressed pride in the department he’s given most of his adult life to.
“These guys that we’ve got, they’re a great bunch of guys, top notch,” he said. “I’d put them up against anybody. I think a lot of these guys. They’re family.
“When I was a battalion chief, that was the easiest job I had because of my crew, they knew what to do. I didn’t have anything to do because they knew what to do,” he said. “And I loved that.
“They make me look good because they’re good. That’s what I’ve always said to them all through my career. I said, ‘you guys are the ones that make me look good.’”
In a statement to The News Friday, Fire Chief Jeremy Holmes praised his retiring deputy chief and wished him well in retirement.
“Chief David Copeland has served with integrity for 35 years at Covington Fire Department. He has helped mold the entire department into what it is today” he said. “He worked his way through the ranks of the department, and help teach almost every member of the department through on-shift training. Covington Fire Department is losing a valuable resource today.
“However, more than just a resource, we are losing a friend. Chief Copeland has a unique way of connecting with each member of the department, and you would know he cared. He will be missed, and we wish him much success and joy in retirement.”