Twenty-four years in the Birmingham Fire & Rescue Service Department and fire Capt. Harold R. Watson III feels just as much pride in the profession as he felt when he first joined in 1992.
“I became a firefighter because I wanted to serve my community. I enjoy providing service to those that are truly in need,” he says.
Giving back has always been a priority for Watson and pursuing firefighting has allowed him not only to serve in his community but also to honor the heroes who had such an impact on him in his early childhood.
“As a child, my grandparent’s house was almost destroyed by a fire that I caused.,” Watson says. “While the family and I were all in a panic and scrambling to extinguish the disaster, after being notified, the local fire department arrived and calmly handled the incident. Well, needless to say, they became my new all-time heroes.”
After serving at various fire stations in Birmingham throughout his career, Watson has found a home at Station 32, located on U.S. Highway 280 and he’s excited to continue growing with his department there.
“I fell in love with the 280 area immediately as its always been a popular booming area” and its “constantly improving and growing,” Watson says. “The businesses are thriving, and the newly built Grandview Medical made the area even greater by providing a state-of-the-art hospital not only for 280 area residents but for the state of Alabama as well.”
As a higher-ranking firefighter, Watson presides over a crew of five to 50 firefighters at any given time. From planning the training agenda, handling office work and responding to emergency calls, Watson ensures that every task is carried out with precision and care. On a typical shift at Station 32, firefighters are dispatched to about five calls a day, with the majority of them being medical-related.
“We do receive numerous fire alarm calls per month, but fortunately not many full-alarm fires in the area.”
But as many residents and travelers know, U.S. Highway 280 is known for its heavy traffic which often makes getting to a destination a huge problem in itself.
“Unfortunately, the traffic in the 280 area is terrible during rush hours as it is in many areas. It can be difficult at times to maneuver on 280 due to many civilian drivers panicking when they see the lights and hear sirens,” Watson says.
In addition to responding to emergency calls, the fire department also engages with the public for educational purposes, like performing fire safety seminars, show-and-tell for schools and fire drills. They also do charity work for organizations including like the American Cancer Society, United Way, Sickle Cell Foundation, United Negro College Fund, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Toys For Tots, Division of Youth Services and more.
After serving with the department for years, not many things surprise Watson anymore, but there is one call from his earlier days that has helped to shape him into the firefighter he is today.
“During my earlier years as a firefighter, a child was rescued from a burning house during the holidays. Just days before Christmas the family lost everything and almost lost their child. At that moment I realized that losing material things mean nothing compared to losing a life.”
Saving lives—whether through action or training and education—is what drives fire Capt. Harold R. Watson III and his continued work with the Birmingham Fire & Rescue Service Department will help him to even better serve his community at Station 32.