Western York County loses two past fire chiefs

01/14/2014 4:42 PM

01/14/2014 11:04 PM

Out in the western part of York County, all the firefighters are volunteers. It is the working people who leave homes and jobs and families and kids to risk their lives to help others.

In just the past few days, two former leaders of those brave volunteers have died.

Smyrna, the smallest department in York County in South Carolina’s smallest town, population 54, lost Ronald Mitchell, 64, who was chief from 1981 to 1986. He died Monday.

A former Clover fire chief, Robert Adams, died Friday at 86.

Smyrna’s department serves many miles around the town and thousands of people. It is often the difference between life and death and lost property for people a long way from any city or other towns.

“(Mitchell) was one of the people who helped get this department up and running,” said Smyrna Fire Chief Ricky Wilson. “People like him realized the need for a department that would help people.”

Mitchell’s dedication to the fire service was such that both his sons became firefighters, and still are. Mike Mitchell is a volunteer in Hickory Grove after years at Sharon, and Joe Mitchell is a fixture at the Rock Hill Fire Department.

Your name is Mitchell, you fight fires and help people.

In Clover, almost everybody knew Robert Adams ran a garage for decades and was, during the 1970s, fire chief at the Clover Volunteer Fire Department.

“He was in the mechanic business, just like I am,” said Clover Fire Chief Charlie Love. “Knew Mr. Adams about all my life. Great guy.”

Adams was a war veteran. This short, wiry man was a Paul Bunyan-type character in Clover, and his legend was known around America for another reason: He attended every one of the first 39 Super Bowls.

In person.

And for a half century, he attended at least one World Series game.

All but one without ever having a ticket before going.

Adams was in the stands at the 1989 World Series in San Francisco when the earthquake hit. He was sitting in the right field bleachers in Yankee Stadium in 1977 when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs. He saw the Atlanta Braves win and lose, and dozens of other teams.

Except for one World Series game in the 1960s, Adams never had a ticket before arriving outside the stadiums. Still, he never failed to get into the game.

But the Super Bowl was his crown jewel. The Super Bowl is always sold out. Getting a ticket is a chore. But Robert Adams would not be denied, ever.

Even if his method was technically against the rules.

It would be a bit harsh to call Adams a ticket scalper, because he didn’t sell tickets for money. He was one of those sports fans who loved the hunt for the best ticket. The action of getting the best seat in the house by kickoff was as much fun as the game itself.

“One time I was so close,” Adams laughed in 2002, “the cheerleaders was in my way, and I could barely see.”

If the Super Bowl was played east of the Mississippi River, Adams would load up his 1989 Cadillac and head to New Orleans or Miami. If the game was in California or Arizona or Texas, Adams would fly to that city and start his hunt for a ticket.

“The last one he was able to get to was 2011,” said granddaughter Lisa Hubbard. “He loved going to the games. People used to want to know all about it when he got home.”

Adams always bought souvenirs for the people he knew in Clover.

“I worked for him for almost 30 years, and he loved those games,” said David Woods, who now runs the garage that Adams owned for so long. “A great guy, and everybody knew him from going to those ballgames.”

The Robert Adams way was to meet up with other ticket hustlers and buy tickets that he could turn into a good seat close to the action. He would barter and buy, then sell and buy again.

“You buy the cheap seats, the standing-room-only tickets,” Adams said in 2002 before heading to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. “Then you try and unload those to get a box seat for yourself.”

Adams knew an old lady who kept tickets in her shawl and an old man who carried tickets in a prosthesis to hide the action from inquiring eyes of law enforcement. He could smell a cop trying to catch scalpers from a mile away. Most times.

But sometimes the authorities got their hands on Adams. One year the cops had set up a tractor-trailer to detain ticket scalpers, and Adams spent part of the first half in there with others. Another year there was a temporary jail under the stands and he was there for a few minutes.

But he saw the rest of the game.

Both fire chiefs, Mitchell and Adams, will be honored at the South Carolina Fire Academy, where the names of all fire chiefs are added to the list of those who served.

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