A dedicated fireman, New Sight’s Mr. Johnny

Published 9:17 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

NEW SIGHT — On a gray metal table underneath a model of the old New Sight Fire Department Station sits stacks of papers, spark plugs and a few grainy photographs of New Sight Volunteer Fire Department in the 1990s. Johnny Smith is photographed, standing tall and proud to serve, he is still serving today. 

He is one of the oldest active volunteer firemen in Lincoln County. John David Hart, District 3 Supervisor and Hog Chain Volunteer Fire Department Chief, said Dale Anding, Clifford Galley and Ronnie Killingsworth are some of the others long serving active firefighters. Smith was born in 1952 in Brookhaven. 

He has served in the department for 33 years or perhaps 34 years, the years start to blur at 72 years old. Smith said he spent his early years traveling around the state while his dad worked as a foreman for a construction company. The company built levees along the Mississippi River and sections of I-55. 

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In 1961, his family moved back to Brookhaven and he went to Brookhaven School District. Driving down the interstate, Smith can point out old gravel pits and lumber sites he worked on. It is likely he has a story for each road in Lincoln County and the people he knew. 

His experience as a grease monkey and truck driver comes in handy at the station. He is often helping Assistant Fire Chief Austin Smith fine tune the vehicles. That is, if they aren’t joking and teasing like siblings despite a nearly 45 year difference in age. 

He is cut from a different cloth, forged in fire and full of true grit. Smith said he joined the volunteer fire department after moving back home from Lawrence County in 1989. One night is all it took to push him in the direction of joining a volunteer fire department. 

“I used to drive a log truck. I was driving one night when I saw a wreck on Highway 27 north of 84 and just south of Georgetown. I was behind a string of trucks, loaded with pine pulpwood,” Smith said. “There was a little old chevrolet truck and he passed the whole line in a curve, in the other lane, a whole string of trucks headed north. The lead truck on it was a double cab, long-wheelbase oilfield Ford. They hit head on. When I got there, I hit my brakes and actually got to them before I got stopped.” 

Smith said he jumped out of his truck with a two gallon water jug and headed for the pickup truck. The gasoline tank had exploded and there was no saving the driver of the pickup truck. 

The oilfield Ford had crossed the ditch and slid sideways. It was a terrible drought at the time. Smith said all of the slews off of Highway 27 were being logged with dust nearly two feet thick. He said the collision forced the steering column back and had pinned the boy driving inside the cab and the tires were so hot it caught the grass on fire. 

“He was yelling help me, help me, help me,” Smith said. “I got there with my water can and used everything trying to get it out. The man on the passenger side walked away with no injuries. I did everything I could for him until a Highway Patrol Officer pulled me away from the fire. I remember I was sitting there praying for the boy until they cleared the scene. I remember I talked to my boss on the Radio and told him I wasn’t going to Natchez tonight. I was going home. I saw two people burn up and it ain’t worth it.” 

Smith said a week or two later Howard and Scott Williams asked him to join the volunteer fire department. He agreed and has been with New Sight ever since then. 

A faithful servant

The way to fight fire is fairly unchanged. You remove fuel, heat or oxygen to put out fires but the technology used in fire protection has changed in Smith’s career. Trucks have come and gone as well. 

Hart explained when he started there was no paging system. People would have to call the fire department and hopefully someone would answer the phone and then call other households. The Lincoln County Fire Association was started and created the Lincoln County Answer Service. The answer service would take the call and page out to a handful of pages in the county. 

It has changed tremendously to today’s day in time where volunteers have radios, pagers and Active Alerts on their phones. 

“We went from the stone ages to what we have now,” Hart said.  

Don Smith, no relation to Johnny Smith, has served for about 31 years at new Sight. He is one of the constants at the department. Both Smiths are a wealth of wisdom and help guide younger men. Johnny said he believes he has made a lot of good friends in the volunteer fire service. He is serving right where he is needed. 

“I’ve seen a lot of folks come and go. I’ve seen fires and accidents I wish I hadn’t seen too,” Smith said. “I think the Lord put me there to pray for that boy that night. In my mind, it is my way of witnessing to people and serving my fellow man. I volunteer to serve, this is a way of living out my faith. I’ll be here until I can’t be here.” 

Mr. Johnny Stories

Smith loves to tell a good story and his peers have a few good stories about him. 

Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Reid said he saw Smith out on I-55 fighting a grass fire in the median this past summer. Flames were topping the tree and Smith was there by himself fighting it. He likely drove the truck to the scene, pulled the hose and pumped the water. 

“He is out there just fighting it with everything he has. I made Keith Dickerson drop me off to help him,” Reid said. “He is one of the oldest ones and he doesn’t back down. He gives it everything he has.” 

A house fire on Macedonia Road on September 20 required help from departments across the county. Smith was one of the first on scene as he worked to pump water. 

Hart said he still has the CAD report from the Macedonia Fire. It is a bookmark for a story which stands out in Hart’s amazement. 

“We got there and he is one of the older guys you know. He was on the ax and cutting into a door and wall like he was still 25 years old,” Hart said. “He still has that want to, with dedication and no quit in him. He is still doing the same thing. He has had many sleepless nights I’m sure but he has always given 110 percent dedication.”