Chapman turns in gear after 40 years

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2021

By Carrie Stambaugh

One of Batesville’s bravest has hung up his turnout gear and helmet after 40 years protecting lives and property.  Batesville Fire Department Assistant Chief Jackie Chapman officially retired from the fire service on Feb. 9, exactly 40 years to the day after he first became a Batesville volunteer firefighter.

Chapman is well-known throughout the community for his service as a firefighter, EMT as well as the time he spent as a South Panola High School history teacher and assistant football coach.

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“Jackie is kind of his own legend,” said Fire Chief Tim Taylor, “He is an asset to the community. Always has been.”

Around the Batesville firehouses Chapman’s legacy will be his leadership and his insistence on the highest-level of excellence and professionalism in everything he does and teaches.

“When you do something be sure you do it right and the best you can, that’s what he always done, always taught and preached,” said BFD Lt. Billy Broome, noting “He brings out the excellence in everybody.”

“He has always been the kind of guy, even though he was paid on-call (a volunteer), he was always on top of things and you could always depend on him to work and lead,” said Taylor, who joined the department right after Chapman.

His work style was just like his teaching style, added Rip Copeland a BPD Fire Inspector, “If you didn’t know him you might take something he is trying to teach you the wrong way. He is just trying to make sure you understand what he is teaching you to do, is the safest way to do it,” he explained.

No one expects that just because Chapman has hung up his turnout gear that he won’t still be a fixture around the Batesville firehouses.

A proclamation is in the works to name him Assistant Chief Emeritus, said Taylor, noting it was expected to be approved by the City Board of Alderman on Tuesday night pending the weather.

It is understood among firefighters that the bonds of brotherhood endure regardless of retirement. “Through blood, sweat and tears he was always there for the department and for me – I am honored to call him my brother,” said Broome.

A second-generation firefighter when he got hired in, his father Dave Broome pointed to Chapman and told him, “‘You see that man right there, you learn everything you can from him.”

He did just that and Chapman, like he does every new recruit, took him under his wing immediately. “He’s like a big brother to you, always watching your back and making sure you are okay,” Broome said.

Over the years there have been countless times and countless situations “where it is a wonder, we are alive,” both Taylor and Broome said, noting Chapman always seemed to be there at a pivotal moment.

Broome recalled falling through the floor of an attic and feeling someone grab his legs below to help him climb out. It was Chapman. “Having someone like him, you know if he is there, he always has your back,” he said.

BFD’s rescue truck will also be an enduring part of Chapman’s legacy. From the time the department got their first designated rescue truck – nicknamed the Cookie Truck because it was an 80s style delivery van – Chapman has been instrumental in its function.

Rescue trucks are used for more specialized fire calls like vehicle crashes that involve extrications or in calls that require other techniques like rope rescue, structural collapse or rescue and recovery diving.

Through several iterations of the rescue truck now, he has both made sure it is stocked with the latest equipment and gear and that BFD firefighters are trained to use it safely and effectively.

Chapman specialized in what to do on an extrication scene whether using the jaws of life or another piece of equipment. His the most powerful lesson: “Stop and look around. Never rush into the scene, take in what’s going on. It could be something simple to save somebody,” said Broome.

With that advice came the reminder to check your own safety equipment to ensure you are safe before trying to save someone else. In the fire service, there is nothing worse than becoming another victim.

His leadership starts from the moment a new recruit begins their training Broome said. “When the guys go to the fire academy, he usually puts notes in there (the van) for them to read,” said Broome, explaining often tucked into the visor is the note: “Don’t worry, they may kill you but they won’t eat you.’ It’s Just quirky little things like that, that he does. Just a little motivation and a little laughter at the same time,” said Broome.

Many of the firefighters struggled to sum up their sentiment about Chapman. “It’s hard to describe. The way Jackie leads, you have a desire to follow,” said Broome.

Life and Life Safety Education Officer James “Cowboy” Snyder may have summed it up best: “He was just a real good chief. We sure do appreciate the time he has dedicated to the city.”