Read an editorial tribute to the chief here.
Firefighters are family.
Shifts they work to keep us safe entail long hours away from their wives and husbands and children, so family bonds are extended to their coworkers. Celebratory and holiday meals are consumed at the fire station.
In Covington, Don Floyd has presided at the head of the city firefighter's table since he was appointed as the department's chief in 1999. He's enjoyed a place at the table since 1972.
It was in June of that year that he became a firefighter, a profession he came to naturally, following his father, Rodney Floyd, who was the city of Covington's first paid fire chief.
Now, Floyd is ready to leave the table, retiring this week after a full and fulfilling career.
"I don't think it's really sunk in yet. It's going to be different," he said.
He and his wife of 41 years, Marcia, are in good health and looking forward to a retirement filled with time for travel and priceless hours with grandchildren.
It is family time that's well earned.
Floyd graduated from Newton County High School on June 3, 1968, and a week later was in boot camp.
"I guess you could say I've been working full time since June 10 of 1968," he said.
It was the height of the Vietnam War, and Floyd, seeking to control his destiny, enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard instead of waiting to be drafted.
He had applied to the Coast Guard Academy, but his uncorrected eyesight was just short of its requirements.
An electronics technician, he served a stint in Iwo Jima and saw the world. He considered a military career, but it was no life for a family man. His specialty would have guaranteed him 10 out of 20 years of duty in isolated posts such as aboard an icebreaker.
"That was no way to raise a family," he said.
And so Floyd prepared to leave the service in 1972, lining up a job with a computer company in Atlanta. The job fell through when the person who had hired him was transferred and the replacement in turn hired someone other than Floyd.
There was no job, and a wife and a baby in a household in need of a bread-winner.
"Here I was getting out of the military with a three-month-old child, with no job, now what am I going to do?"
The city manager at the time, Frank Turner, hired Floyd on as a firefighter. It was a natural fit.
"I had always had it in the back of my mind, I guess a deep desire to be a firefighter and to maybe follow in my dad's footsteps and was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity," Floyd said.
"I was obviously elated to be able to have a job and, of course, to come back home to what I had always wanted to do, something a lot of folks don't have the opportunity to do."
As Floyd notes, firefighters are a special breed, people willing to run into buildings when others are fleeing, and even the cockroaches and rodents are skulking away.
Floyd and firefighters in general just want to help people.
"When you think about it, (when) the fire department (deals) with folks, they're either losing their property, or there is a health problem, or they're in dire need of assistance, and most of the time for something that nobody else will do" Floyd said.
"The satisfaction of being able to meet someone's necessities when they're down the most is probably the best facet of the job."
Floyd is fiercely proud of his department, citing the caliber of employees as one of the best parts of his job. "They would exceed and prevail against any department anywhere," he said.
He is also proud of having led the department to its current standing. The city has a fire insurance office rating (ISO) rating of 3, the third-highest, something less than 10 percent of similarly-sized cities attain. The city also has earned international accreditation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence, the fourth Georgia fire department to receive the honor. Floyd also was accredited.
There is death, there is certainly destruction, but there are also moments of humor to be found on the job.
Floyd was the first to arrive on one house fire call long ago and found a boy, no older than five or six, in the yard. Floyd took the child by the hand and led him across the street and out of harm's way.
He asked the boy if he was OK, and the child responded that he was, but that he was worried about Bobby.
Internal alarm bells went off.
"Is Bobby in the house?"
"Who is Bobby?"
"He's my friend"
The internal alarms sounded louder. Floyd rushed over to tell the other firefighters that there may be someone else in the house, returned to the boy and resumed his questioning.
"Tell me about Bobby."
"He's my snake."
Relief. The internal alarm was silenced.
Bobby wasn't even alive, but a stuffed snake.
Firefighters were able to "rescue" Bobby and reunited the child with his friend.
"It was real to him," Floyd said.
Family, his wife, two sons (Michael and Thomas), and the grandchildren, and his extended firefighter family, are paramount for Floyd.
One of his most memorable fire calls in 39 years was one of the first, a fire that exemplified the demands firefighting puts on a person's life.
The fire was a blaze in Sears and Roebuck on Christmas Eve that kept firefighters busy through the holiday.
"I missed my oldest son's first Christmas," he said. "It's hard to replay that, you know."
People have commented on how firefighters have a cushy life, lounging about the station, but Floyd says they don't realize the personal sacrifice the job entails. Firefighters are on duty whenever everyone else is out at the lake for a Memorial Day cookout, or the family is taking a trip to Six Flags.
While others get together for the holidays, the fire department family comes together. For Thanksgiving meals, the shift family prepares and enjoys the feast, just like any other family.
That camaraderie is what makes the fire service so special.
"It's a family. It's like a bunch of siblings," Floyd said. "You pick on people, you argue with them, and with each other, but when the hammer falls, we're there for everybody, for each other."