NORTH ADAMS — The year Francis "Frank" Rivers joined the North Adams Fire Department, some seven decades ago, firefighters got a raise.
The wages increased from $4.78 to $5.12 per day, and the workweek was 72 hours per week, with a Saturday and Sunday off one out of every 14 weekends.
Rivers, a town of Florida resident, was joined by firefighters past and present on Friday to celebrate his 100th birthday and reflect on his time in the North Adams department.
Rivers recalled a Bracewell Avenue fire in which he collapsed while rescuing a woman and required help from a fellow firefighter. There was a haunting fire on River Street in which, despite the efforts of firefighters, a child died.
"I still see it when I go by that area over there," Rivers said.
There was a fire on Franklin Street on Christmas Eve, and a Captain fell off of a roof and dislocated his shoulder.
"We were lucky we saved the people there," Rivers said.
Rivers also reminisced about all the firefighters who were with the department when he joined.
"I laid in bed the other night and I could name all of them, all of the fellas that I worked with," Rivers said.
North Adams Fire Director Stephen Meranti reviewed Rivers' employee records with the city, which detailed his decades of service to the city.
Rivers served under three chiefs until his retirement in 1972 and was a member of the department during many of the city's most historically significant fires, including a 1946 blaze that devastated St. Joseph's School. He was one of the founding members of the North Adams Firefighters Local 1781 union in 1968.
When Rivers joined the department in 1946 following his military service, there was a second fire station on Union Street that no longer exists. He saw the construction of the current fire station on American Legion Drive in 1955 and was transferred there when the Union Street station closed in 1956.
Though the equipment and training may have changed since Rivers' time as a firefighter, it was clear Friday that the sense of camaraderie spans generations.
"You can see that firefighting is not just a career, it's a lifestyle. You can hear these guys, and they are firefighters even after they retire," Meranti said.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376