By CARL SMITH
For a majority of his life, James Michael Collins has assisted people in their most crucial moment of need.
The 61-year-old driver of Starkville Fire Department’s Ladder One will work his last shift on June 29 and retire after 37 years and two months of service to the city.
Service to others in their moment of need, Collins said, has been the key to his longevity with the fire department.
“When it gets in your blood, it stays in your blood,” Collins said. “Helping people and doing for others, those are the best parts of my job.”
Collins’ years of service have not been limited to Starkville itself. At age 15, he joined the Grenada Volunteer Fire Department. He then moved to Oktibbeha County in March of 1974 and joined the Starkville Police Department as a patrolman. Thirteen months later, Collins joined the fire department.
In October, 2005, Collins was a part of a five-man team dispatched from the area to assist with recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm made landfall on his birthday.
Collins said his group worked from dawn to dark each day for two weeks in the Pass Christian area.
“There was this one elderly lady there we met. We were out on four wheelers when we met her sitting on the steps next to what used to be her home,” Collins said. “We asked if there was anything we could do to help, and she said she had a sterling silver set lost in the area of the rubble that used to be her dining room. She said if she could find that, she would be OK.”
Collins and his team went down the road and enlisted the help of a construction team removing debris to find the priceless set.
“The crane operator started removing stuff, and we found her set within 45 minutes,” he said. “She said, ‘You don’t know what this means to me.’ I really enjoyed being able to help out down there.”
In his service with the city of Starkville, Collins has served as director of 911 services, a fire investigator and driver. While his time with SFD will come to an end later this week, he will still serve with the Maben and Mathison Volunteer Fire Departments. Recently, Collins was elected as a captain for the Maben Volunteer Fire Department. His son, Justin, currently serves as the department’s chief.
“If they have something major here, I’ll be in Starkville for it,” Collins said.
SFD Fire Chief Rodger Mann said Collins’ dedication to his job and his personal integrity are two traits which make him an excellent firefighter.
“Mike is an individual you don’t have to worry about if he’s coming to work or not; he’s a person you can always count on,” Mann said. “Mike was a well respected firefighter when I joined, and he’s maintained that level all the way through. You won’t find anybody that knows the streets better than he or knows the fire hydrants better than he. He hit his notch when he got behind the wheel of our platform truck. That was his true calling.”
County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said Collins, who is a part of his family, has truly made a lasting impact on his community.
“Mike has done what ever he could do to help alleviate situations,” Rosenhan said. “He’s always been interested in helping the community. Like so many of us in the fire community, we don’t wish bad upon anybody, but if it does happen, we want to be there to help. That’s what Mike is all about.”
On June 21, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins honored Collins as the longest serving full-time employee of Starkville during the board of aldermen meeting.
“Mr. Collins has shown great leadership and has served untiringly, faithfully, loyally and with great commitment,” Perkins said. “He has been a living example of what an employee is all about. His longevity demonstrates his total and absolute enthusiasm, motivation and dedication for the job. We need more employees like James Michael Collins.”