St. Clair Fire Protection District Lt. Jason Hatley said that when Dale "Smoke" Sullivan first joined the local department, Elvis Presley was starting to top the music charts, gasoline was 23 cents per gallon and the average annual family income was just over $4,000.
That was in 1955.
Sullivan was recognized by his peers for 55 years on the job during the district's annual 2010 awards banquet Saturday night at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Other firefighters - both full time and volunteer - also were honored for years of service and special recognition.
"Dale has devoted his life to protecting the lives and property of the citizens of the St. Clair Fire Protection District," Hatley said in an article he put together about Sullivan. "On his wedding day, there was a barn fire and Dale went. Once it was extinguished, he was mentally and physically drained. He took some medicine and thankfully made it to his wedding on time.
"Over the years, there were many family events that he had to leave and lot of memories that to him only exist through pictures and stories."
Sullivan, 71, joined the department on Nov. 1, 1955, and has since served in nearly every rank in the district. In 1970, he was elected chief and served in that position through 1972. He also was on the board of directors for the fire protection district after it was formed in 1973, and he served in that capacity for 23 years.
During that time, Hatley said, the district went from a $12,000 annual budget to more than $350,000.
"He had a vital role in many of the decisions that were made to make the district what it is today," Hatley said.
In 2002, the district hired Sullivan full time to maintain the trucks and equipment.
"He is responsible for all preventative maintenance and any repairs that have to be made," Hatley said. "The amount of money he has saved the district over the years cannot be calculated."
Sullivan acquired the nickname "Smoke" during his early days as a firefighter. He has logged more than 70,000 hours at the firehouse.
"This number does not include the countless hours he has spent changing light bulbs, working on pumps and changing tires in the middle of the night or the immeasurable hours on calls and trainings," Hatley said.
"Smoke has upheld the highest traditions of the fire service longer than most of the district's firefighters have been alive," Hatley said. "There is no possible way to thank him enough for the time, sweat and tiring legwork he has offered for 55 years."
Sullivan received a special plaque in commemoration for his service.
In addition to Sullivan's recognition, St. Clair Fire Chief Eric Hinson handed out four special 2010 awards during Saturday's ceremony.
"These awards are an honor to get," he said.
Zac Wheat was given the Rookie of the Year award, Assistant Chief Mike Kelley received the Firefighter of the Year award, fire protection district board President Kirby Banderman was presented the Volunteer of the Year award and Melvin Huff was recognized with the Honorable Mention award.
Hinson had a few words to say about each.
"When you see this man, he always has a smile on his face," the chief said of Wheat. "He works hard for the district when on an incident and gets the job done when asked to do a specific task."
The words of praise were similar for Kelley.
"When something needs to get done, it is easy to call upon this person to handle the situation," Hinson said of his assistant chief. "He is my right-hand man, and he keeps things moving on a day-to-day basis. ... He deserves this award tonight as the 2010 full-time firefighter of the year."
When speaking about Banderman, who is a member of the St. Clair Fire Protection District's board of directors, the praise continued.
"Once again, when something needs to get done, it is easy to call upon this person to handle the situation at hand," Hinson said. "He was the top volunteer responder for 2010 and much deserves this award. He is a vital part of this organization, making important decisions from behind the scenes and is a vital part of where we are today."
Finally, Hinson spoke about Huff.
"(This award goes to) someone who is an honor to work with," the chief said. "When going through all the names for all the awards, this particular individual kept coming back into my mind and sticking to me like glue. ... He has been an inspiration to all of us and would do anything for any of us."
In addition, several firefighters were given service-year awards.
Five years: Chad Blankenship, Robert Schumacher, Joe Stephens and Charlie Wickes.
Ten years: Huff and Brad Walters.
Fifteen years: Brian Berkel and Danny Samel.
Twenty years: Brad Whitworth.
Twenty-five years: Chief Hinson.
Forty years: Louis Folkerts and Danny Gossett.