At the age of 75, Lewis Cooper has no plans to slow down in his post as chief of the Texico Volunteer Fire Department.
Originally from Portales, Cooper went to basic training in the late 1950s and served in the Army Reserve for 13 years. He retired after 39 years with Helton Oil in 2000, and has been the fire chief at Texico since 1989.
He recently celebrated 50 years with the Texico department, and although he didn’t always believe he was destined to be a firefighter, it has become his life’s work.
“Back when I was 8 or 9 years old in Portales,” he said, “we had a two story house about two blocks from where we lived and it caught on fire one night.”
“I saw two firemen up on that roof, silhouetted against that blaze and I looked and I said I’ll never do anything like that.”
While Cooper isn’t sure what changed his mind, he said that sight had a profound impact on him.
What made you interested in becoming a firefighter? A friend, when I moved over here, he was in the department and he talked me into coming down. After three or four meetings, I said let’s go for it. And that’s what got me into it. That was in 1964.
What other jobs have you held? I worked at Helton Oil in Farwell. That was my full-time job. I just volunteered here when we had calls.
They were very understanding about answering calls that came in. There were days that I spent more time here than I did at work and they never said a word about it. Even if I had to work extra hard the next day or two to catch up, it was no problem.
You were recently honored for 50 years with the fire department. How does it feel? When we had our annual Christmas party, two or three of the new firemen made a metal plaque for me commemorating the 50 years. It feels like I’ve been here a long time. I’m glad that I’m able to serve the community.
Do you have any plans to retire soon? Not soon. I want to put in another five years.
What do you plan on doing when you do retire? Just maybe we can spend a little more time at our place up in the mountains.
Do you have any interesting fire stories from throughout the years? Anything unique or heroic? In a way, it’s all been heroic.
We’ve had some large fires, some bad accidents. The worst fire we ever had was when an elevator burned. We were out there close to 24 hours.
A lot of people dub us hometown heroes or whatever, and basically I agree with them.
We’ve had several bad accidents. One in particular, a plane crash, I can remember just about every detail on it. That was in the mid- to late-60s. What made it bad, I knew the people on it and there were no survivors.
What advice do you give to new firefighters looking to join the ranks? My advice would be to come and train with us, visit with us, but don’t jump into it unless you really want to, because it can take a lot of time. To become qualified, you have to have 240-some odd hours the first year to become a probationary firefighter. Volunteer is same as full-time at a big fire department.
Who has been your greatest inspiration? I guess you could say my parents were. My dad always said if you’re going to do it, do it right. And my mother would encourage me on anything I wanted to do or tried to do. Some I did, some I couldn’t.
What’s your idea of the perfect meal? Away from home, my perfect meal would be when we have our Christmas party at the fire department. We prepare it for several guests that we have, and we have a good steak dinner with all the trimmings. At home, it’s good enchiladas, meat or chicken.
What would be your ideal vacation? To get all the kids together and go spend a week in the mountains to just get to know each other. They’re scattered from Louisiana to California.
— Compiled by CMI staff writer Emily Crowe.