I think it's safe to say the new year didn't get off to a great start. While the optimist in me says things can only get better, the pessimist hangs around with his feet up on the kitchen table saying it's only going to get worse. Time will tell.
We had just finished up a bout of freezing weather that limited our pre-Christmas activities and caused water pipes to burst all over the county when a tornado struck Jessieville on the second day of the new year. Amazingly, there were no serious injuries and the kids were back in class a week later, which I personally find extraordinary, and a testimony to the will and determination of the Jessieville community.
Unfortunately, that event was followed up by more distressing news, that a true treasure of Hot Springs, Orval Allbritton, had passed away. It's hard to measure the contributions Orval made to preserving Hot Springs history by giving new life to a colorful past that otherwise would have been lost to generations. His first book, "Leo and Verne: The Spa's Heyday," is a must-read and often cited by others. I always admired Orval's meticulous attention to detail and his ability to filter out folklore from fact.
Then word came Thursday that Chris Chapmond was leaving as police chief at the end of the month. I first met Chris when our sons played fast-pitch baseball at the Optimist Park; he was a good coach, solid in his instruction and encouraging to the players. I think a lot of that translated over into his professional career. It was a loss to the community when he left to continue his career out of state, and we gained a lot when he came back. Fortunately, his second-in-command, Assistant Chief Billy Hrvatin, is more than capable of stepping in, and if he decides to throw his hat in the ring, is well worth consideration as the next chief.
I think the weight of those events and others were wrapped around me when I walked out of the office the other day, into a painfully clear blue sky and comfortably warm weather for the month of January. My head was sagging and I was sort of dragging along when there it was in front of me: the sight of a brand-new fire engine parked in front of the Hot Springs Convention Center.
There's just some kind of kid inside of you that gets worked up when you see a shiny new red (well, mostly white) big ol' fire truck. I strolled over and chatted a bit with Ed Davis, the Hot Springs fire chief, who was standing next to his firefighters. They were showing the new truck to the Hot Springs Board of Directors, which was holding its agenda meeting next door at City Hall.
Ed is another of the city's true treasures; I've known him for decades, dating back to when he was fire marshal. He's an able leader and a good steward of the public's money. Sometimes you just have to drop $2 million on a new fire truck and, well, there it was. Ed also gave me my first look at the department's new swift-water rescue boat, a necessity in an area with so many lakes and streams with a propensity for flash-flooding, which was also on display for the city directors. Let's hope that doesn't get put to the test in the near future.
After visiting a bit, I left Ed to talk to one of our reporters, Lance Brownfield, and headed off to the house for a night of proofreading stories and newspaper pages for the next day's edition. My head wasn't hanging as low, though, and my step didn't seem as heavy. It's amazing the effect a shiny new fire truck can have on you. Sort of like starting the new year all over again.