The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

June 28, 2013

‘Smurf’ retires from Athens Fire & Rescue

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— Athens Fire & Rescue driver Gerald Franks earns a paycheck as a firefighter and maintenance worker, but he displayed a comedian’s knack for zingers and one-liners during a laugh-filled retirement ceremony Thursday afternoon at Fire Station No. 1.

More than 35 people crowded into the station’s living room as Franks explained his reasons for leaving a career that spanned 27 years with the city of Athens, including 25 years as a firefighter.

Franks, 49, known affectionately as “Smurf” for his short stature and light-blue uniform shirt, said he planned to enjoy his outdoor pursuits and spend more time with his family.

“I’m going to go to yard sales with my mother, watch more games with my father, go hunting and fishing and go to Olive Garden more,” said Franks, who will only be semi-retired as of July 1 since he will continue as a maintenance worker for Industrial Properties of the South in Madison on a part-time basis.

In between referring to department secretary Dawn Blakely as “Fire Chief Blakely," self-deprecating jokes and references to stories he said he hoped would never leave the firehouse, Franks took the time to thank former crew members he was joining in retirement, the city administration, Fire Chief Tony Kirk and Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Thornton and his station crew.

“I’m going to miss the people I work with and the citizens of Athens, and being able to help people out in need and the appreciation you get from doing that,” Franks said. “A lot of people don’t realize that you spend a third of your life — every third day for 24 hours — with your crew, and you end up spending more time with them than your family.

“Athens is a great place. I had a chance to work with Decatur’s fire department many years ago because I’m from Decatur, but I turned down a job offer and haven’t regretted it. Athens has a great small-town atmosphere, and you don’t get that in bigger cities.”

Franks started his career with the city as a wastewater treatment plant operator but was looking for a service-oriented occupation.

“Back then jobs were posted internally first, and when the firefighter job came open, it was an opportunity that I took because I’ve always wanted to do something helping people and being of service to people,” Franks said.

Battalion Chief David “Woody” Andrews, who has known Franks for 15 years, said Gerald combined a strong work ethic with an uncanny ability to be “a wheeler and dealer who always came out on the good end of a deal” with his fellow firefighters.

“He was always professional and courteous on the job, and he was always a good worker. If something needed to be done, Gerald was in the middle of it,” Andrews said. “We spend 24-hour shifts together, and we’re a tight bunch of guys. So when someone leaves, it’s just like a family member leaving.”