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Fired By Laughs

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L. Mark McCurry, who served as a Forest City's firefighter from 1985 until 2016, retiring as chief.

When Mark McCurry was in high school, his friends knew him as good for a laugh.

The retired Forest City Fire Chief says retirement has turned him into a man maid.

"I'm gonna sell my truck and get a van. I can put a tag on the front that reads, 'Man Van.' My wife says she's not gonna retire because she knows what's gonna happen." McCurry says his man maid duties include laundry, house cleaning, and child care.

More on that later.

During an afternoon of storytelling, he got the biggest laugh when he told about Butch England locking his business to run fight a fire.

"About two hours later, the police showed up at the fire to say some guy had been locked inside Butch's business for the past two hours," Mark said to peels of laughter.

When asked if he ever got a cat out of a tree, he said, "Oh, I've got lots of cat stories. One guy down on Wilkie Street called to say his cat was up a tree. I told him to leave out food and the cat would come down. He said the cat was on a chain. It was on a leash. I'd never seen a cat on a leash. I put on my coat and was ready to go up after the cat, but he said, 'No, that cat knows me. Let me go up after it.' I let him go, but that cat tore him up. His arms and all over were scratched.

"Another time we got a cat out of a tree and as soon as it hit the ground, it ran across the yard and up another tree," McCurry said.

But the deadly serious side of fire service came out, too. Because of different products used in construction, fires are much more dangerous now.

"When I first started we were dealing with gray smoke, but today the smoke is black and black smoke means much more deadly chemicals and materials are burning. To walk into a burning building today is like walking into a propane tank," he said.

And today's firefighters deal with all kinds of emergencies and rescues.

"Who would have ever believed we would do a swift water rescue because of flooding. We've done four of them," McCurry said.

McCurry succeeded Chief Bob Harrill who made his name in Forest City by running a shoe store.

"He'd always greet you by saying, 'You look like about an eleven and a half.' He never looked at your face. He looked at your feet," McCurry remembered with more laughter.

Like most firefighters of his day, he began as a volunteer.

"They kept saying, 'We're gonna get a new building,' but I never dreamed I would be the one to build it."

The modern fire house on Oak Street was built during McCurry's tenure as chief and often with his leadership.

One of the most serious fires McCurry and his crew fought was the PushPa fire in downtown Forest City. He jokingly calls it the first terrorist attack in the U.S. PushPa was owned by an Indian businessman who had been supporting his son overseas.

"He cut the boy off and he flew in here, checked into a motel in Kings Mountain, went to the Army/Navy store and bought big gas cans, came to Forest City and poured gas on one wall, and then the other wall and set the whole thing, including himself, on fire. One woman told us later, she saw him jump into his car on fire. A highway patrolman stopped him on 85 for speeding and they took him by helicopter to a burn center. He lived and wasn't charged with anything, just deported," McCurry said.

McCurry said there were several serious fires the first month he was on the job.

"It was almost like somebody was trying to run me off," he said.

Among the worst of those fires was "Roger Horn's paint store behind Florence Mill. There were 55-gallon drums of paint thinner in there and they would explode and fly into the air like bombs going off. We've had some very serious fires."

One of the biggest changes he sees is the higher and higher demands on volunteer departments with fewer volunteers coming along. He fears, "The day is gonna come when rural departments are staffed by paid personnel. The training today is so much more extensive and the dangers are so much worse."

About those child care duties, McCurry says there is one house between his and wife Beverly's house and his daughter Emily Sain's house with a path running in the back. Emily works as town clerk for Forest City, a job she hankered for after having interned there during high school and college. She and husband, John Sain, produced the McCurries' three grandchildren: Rylan, 7, Weston, 4, and Emerson Belle who is 16 months. The baby's Belle came from two ancestors, one Beth and one Nell. Good creativity. Those grandchildren are now a huge part of McCurry's life.

McCurry served for 10 years as a volunteer beginning in the old fire house where city hall is now. The library was upstairs. While volunteering, he managed the local Lowe's grocery store.

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