With a name like William Farnham Randolph Jr., you'd think he was a movie actor or maybe a wealthy media mogul, but that's not the case.
However, the Gibsonburg resident, who answers to Farnham — “That's what they call me. It's my grandmother's maiden name” — is no ordinary Joe.
Randolph, 74, has dedicated all of his adult life to public safety. On Feb. 5, the Toledo Zenobia Shriners honored Randolph for his nearly 60 years as a member of the Lindsey Volunteer Fire Department.
“I got a plaque,” Randolph said humbly. “They honored a bunch of firemen in Perrysburg, for various things. Some were awarded for service, some for heroism.”
|Farnham Randolph became a member of the
Lindsey Volunteer Fire Department at the age
of 16. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
Randolph's father, William Randolph Sr., moved the family to Lindsey — a village of almost 500 people located between Woodville and Fremont — in the 1940s. He owned a grocery store and frozen food locker across the street from the fire station.
Back then, when the local telephone operator received a fire call, she would throw a switch that set off a community siren to alert the volunteer firefighters. Randolph Sr. was one of those volunteers.
“There were no two-way radios, no cell phones,” Randolph Jr. said. “My dad would run over to the station. My brother and I would go over to the fire station and they would say the fire was at so-and-so's house. We started doing that when I was around 12 years old.”
By the time young Farnham was 14, he started “sneaking rides” to the fire. In 1952, at age 16, he became an actual member of the Lindsey Volunteer Fire Department.
“Back in those days,” he said, “if you wanted to be a fireman you just showed up.”
Putting out fires in rural areas has its challenges. There are no fire hydrants on country roads. In the 1950s, Randolph said the village of Lindsey used a John Bean pumper truck, which carried a high-pressure pump, to put out fires. The department had a two-ton Chevrolet truck equipped with a 1,000-gallon tank to get the water into the pumper.
“When I joined we had a dozen, maybe 15 calls a year,” Randolph said. “They were all fire calls. Now, three-fourths of the calls are emergencies – people falling and stuff like that. The way this thing has evolved, the equipment is so much more advanced. There are more things we didn't have when I was a teenager, as far as the educational needs and requirements.”
Randolph's father served as Lindsey's fire chief from the early 1960s through the early 1980s. Randolph never considered succeeding his father.
“I was in the National Guard so I never really pushed it (becoming fire chief),” he said. “I didn't know if I was going to be around or not. Between my dad, me and my three brothers and my son, there were six members of the family on the department.”
Randolph and his wife of 49 years, Ruth Ann, have owned Randolph's TV and Appliance in Gibsonburg for three decades. They have three children – Amy, 48; Bill, 47, who lives in Gibsonburg and is a member of the Gibsonburg Volunteer Fire Department; and Beth, 45, who lives in Charlotte, N.C.
“We moved to Gibsonburg four years ago because my business is in Gibsonburg and we wanted to downsize to a smaller house,” Randolph said. “We bought my daughter Amy's house.”
In 59 years with the fire department, Randolph said he's never had any near-death experiences. He has, however, been in a few hairy situations where ceilings nearly fell on top of him or the stairs nearly gave way right under his feet.
Randolph admitted it's been a while since he's been on the scene of a fire, but he still occasionally goes on ambulance and accident runs.
“I was a first responder until a couple years ago,” he said. “It was just getting too physical.”
Matter of fact, the last “fire” Randolph went to occurred in his own home.
“I was doing some work,” he said. “We were converting to electric heat in our house and my son accidentally dragged a drape across a space heater. I was at my dad's house at the time and the fire phone rang and I answered it. My wife was telling me our house was on fire. I beat the fire trucks home. It was more smoke than anything. The drape caught fire and there was just black soot.”
Randolph said he's now more of a social member of the fire department, helping out with reverse raffles and mailing lists. But the village of Lindsey can take solace in knowing that if Randolph's firefighting expertise is ever needed, he'll show up.
“The biggest satisfaction you can get,” Randolph said, “is helping other people. They had a run Monday night, but I didn't go because I was at a meeting. It was a rescue run and they had enough help there. But, I did go by and check on it.”