The job of a firefighter entails much more than one might expect, as crews also provide medical assistance to those who need it. Douglas Marks was one of those individuals, with his wife Maxine calling the DeKalb County station numerous times to help her ailing husband. However, on one such trip to the Marks’ home in July 2014, the firefighters learned his surprising life story.
Residents of Decatur, Georgia, Douglas and Maxine lived in a house that required some urgent repairs, mirroring the former’s poor health at that time in the summer of 2014. The 82-year-old had suffered a number of strokes, and had also been diagnosed with dementia and emphysema. As a result, his wife made frequent calls to the local fire station.
The DeKalb Fire Department was first established back in 1937, some three years after local residents were offered private anti-blaze services by a man named J.V. Draughon, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee. Draughon’s business was then purchased by DeKalb County for more than $5,000, leading to the creation of the department.
The department’s first station was located on North Decatur Road, but it took 12 years before the second station in Brookhaven, Georgia was operational. By the mid-1950s, however, DeKalb County boasted no fewer than nine fire stations, with that number eventually rising to 26 today.
DeKalb County’s Fire Station Nine received Maxine’s calls for assistance, sending out firefighters several times to help her husband. “I don’t know how many firemen have been in my house,” she told a TV crew from Fox 5 Atlanta in July 2014. Each time they visited, Douglas was offered medical aid, with his wife looking on.
Despite their frequent trips to the house, though, the firefighters didn’t really know who Douglas was. Indeed, while a friendly rapport was building between them, the DeKalb County workers weren’t aware of much beyond that. However, that all changed following one particular conversation with Maxine.
As it turned out, Douglas was a former fireman of DeKalb County’s Fire Station Nine, earning the rank of lieutenant. He arrived at the station back in 1960 and became their 38th crew member, while he was also the first paramedic to be employed by the county. Following 25 years fighting flames and saving lives, Douglas then retired to his home in Decatur.
After learning about his former career, the firefighters quickly formed an even stronger bond with Douglas and his wife. “Once we found out that he worked for DeKalb, naturally we were drawn in to find out more about him,” firefighter David McBrayer told Fox 5 Atlanta in July 2014.
Consequently, it was soon discovered that Douglas was the oldest living firefighter from DeKalb County at 82 years of age. “Even though we didn’t work with Mr. Marks, we have that bond with him, if that makes sense,” Captain Shane Jones told Fox 5 Atlanta. “We know what he did because we’re now doing the same thing.”
As their friendship continued to grow, the firefighters then noticed the state of Douglas’ house, aware that both he and Maxine were unable to make the necessary repairs themselves. With the 82-year-old confined to a wheelchair, the DeKalb County employees decided to do their bit to help the couple.
When they weren’t on duty, the firefighters returned to Douglas and Maxine’s house, looking to fix up the areas that had fallen into disrepair. They subsequently built a new deck just outside the property, as well as a wheelchair ramp for the former DeKalb County man.
“We were worried about [Maxine] falling,” Captain Jones told WSB-TV in July 2014 of the couple’s old decking and ramp. “It was at a pretty steep angle.” With that in mind, firemen got to work on the deck, but it proved to be a very taxing job.
“They had me screwing deck boards down and hauling lumber,” firefighter McBrayer recalled to Fox 5 Atlanta after completing the job. “I think we spent about ten hours that day [working on the house].” However, despite putting in all that work, still more needed to be done for Douglas and Maxine.
Indeed, the elderly couple’s roof also required major repairs, while the house itself needed new flooring and insulation installed. Unfortunately, though, the DeKalb County firemen faced a financial obstacle before starting work on those areas of the property, with costs beginning to mount up.
According to Captain Jones, the funding for the required materials was becoming strained, despite boasting the necessary manpower to complete the job. With that in mind, the fire department were open to receiving donations from members of the public to help finish the work for Douglas and Maxine.
Despite those issues, though, Captain Jones reiterated the reasons why his firefighters wanted to help the 82-year-old out, citing his incredibly long service. “Firemen have a tendency to stick together,” he told WSB-TV. “So for [Douglas] to be here for 25 years, and give 25 years of his life here, we wanted to give a little something back to him.”
Naturally, the firefighters’ efforts didn’t go unrewarded by Maxine, who paid them back in a heartfelt and traditional way following the completion of the decking and wheelchair ramp. “I cooked corn, green beans, collards, sweet potatoes, macaroni cheese [for them],” she recalled to Fox 5 Atlanta.
Maxine’s appreciation didn’t end there, though, as she also personally thanked each of the firefighters for their work on her house. “Since I know these guys, I hug them [because] they’re like my family too,” she added. In the months and years that followed, the couple maintained their close relationship with the workers at Douglas’s old station.
Sadly, however, in the spring of 2016, part of that heartwarming friendship came to a poignant end. Following his long battle with dementia and emphysema, Douglas passed away, leaving behind his heartbroken wife and their newly acquired extended family from DeKalb County.
It had been almost two years since DeKalb County Fire Station Nine had responded to a series of calls from a worried elderly woman in Decatur, Georgia. The crew’s chance realization that her husband was the oldest living fireman in the county kick-started an incredible relationship. It’s a tale that illustrates the important bond shared between firefighters of all ages.