Page 37 - Salem Magazine Spring 2015
P. 37

                                  “We served together for a number of years on the rescue squad and my impression of Pat was that he was a solid and knowledgeable first responder and he was the type of person you always wanted in a bad situation because he did not get rattled or stressed,” says Smith. “His career in public safety is one of distinction and he should be proud of the difference he has made in so many lives.”
“Randy put in a good word for me, but I never had any idea whatsoever that I would climb the ranks to become chief,” says Counts. “I just wanted to be a firefighter and, to this day, I miss riding on the back of the engines.”
QUITE A RIDE
Back in 1974, when Counts started his career in Salem, the firefighters literally stood on the back bumper, known as the tailboard, and routinely traveled above the speed limit to get to emergencies. For 16 years he rode the engines on hundreds of calls, including one in 1976 that left him upside down in the middle of College Avenue.
Current Chief John Prillaman, City Manager Kevin Boggess and Counts accept a new thermal imaging camera paid for by donations made from Firehouse Subs on Main Street in Salem.
“I was assigned to Station 1 and we got a call that there was a fire at Mohawk Rubber, which is now Yokohama,” he says. “I was riding shotgun in the front seat when we approached the intersection of 4th and College.”
Our Community
  and Coordinator for Emergency Services at the time, made sure Counts got a fair shake.
  An elderly couple was traveling on 4th street and didn’t hear or see the sirens and flashing lights, so the driver of the fire truck had to violently swerve to keep from running over them. When he did so, the 500 gallons of water on the tanker truck shifted violently from one side to the other and the fire engine completely flipped over on its roof.
“The two guys riding on the back were thrown off and I was basically pinned in the cab standing on my head until the windshield was broken and we were able to crawl out,” he says. ”It’s a wonder no one was seriously hurt.”
Just like it took him awhile to get over that incident, Counts readily admits that it took him several weeks to realize he was actually retired and not on some type of extended vacation.
“I missed the daily interaction with all of the people in the office and at the fire stations,” he says. “As I look back, working for the city just opened up so many doors and opportunities for me and my 40 years just flew by.”
Counts speaks with the media during a call in 2014.
 Counts already has plenty to do in retirement thanks to his wife, Kris, three grown children and four grandchildren who live in Salem and Reston.
“Owen, who just turned three last month, had a firefighter theme for his birthday party,” he says. “I loved being a firefighter so much that if they had decided to cut my pay, I probably would have done it anyway.”
That might be a slight exaggeration, but Counts has seen plenty of job applications over the years to back up his claim that there’s just something special about serving the public as a firefighter that still appeals to men and women of all ages.
“There is just something that draws people to the Fire and EMS service,” says Counts. “Over the years, we had a rocket scientist who had a master’s degree in aerospace engineering apply as well as attorneys, horticulturists, financial advisors and criminal justice majors.”
Counts, with three of his four grandchildren and his wife Kris, celebrates at his retirement reception in December.
Not to mention, one dedicated former pop bottle sorter.
    www.salemva.gov | SPRING 2015
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