The Crusader Newspaper Group

Gary firefighter Williamson retires after 37 years without ever calling off

By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader

When Donny Williamson applied to become a Gary firefighter, one of the questions on the application asked why he wanted to become a firefighter. Williamson’s response then, was that he wanted to help people and of course, earn money. The first reason was an indicator of the person he is after years as a firefighter—self-sacrificing, compassionate and brave.

Now after 37 years of doing just that Williamson is retiring and the way he calls it, “I’m going to let the young guys take over.”

Williamson came up through the ranks starting as a firefighter. He was also a part of the elite team out of Station 4 called, “The Rock.” This group was called “The Rock” because they were hard hitters. He said, “We were the best of the best consisting of four men on one rig. That was the Captain, the Engineer for the truck and two crew members.”

Williamson’s last day as Captain Battalion Chief was September 19. Because of all the overtime and vacation time he has accumulated, he is still employed until February 17. He said, “I never called off. My last station I will have worked will be Station 13.”

He has also been a member of the fire department’s Honor Guard for 20 years. An original member of the group, Williamson said The Honor Guard would represent the City of Gary during parades, funerals and various political events. He said, “One time we did an affair at the Governor’s Office in Indianapolis. Because of our success in representing the city, we were invited to initiate Honor Guard Teams throughout the State of Indiana.”

Members of the Fire Station 13, who have worked over the years with retiring Battalion Chief Donny Williamson (kneeling front center with cap).
Members of the Fire Station 13, who have worked over the years with retiring Battalion Chief Donny Williamson (kneeling front center with cap).

In 2011, the late Gary Mayor Rudy Clay named Williamson Fire Chief, a position he held until his passing. Williamson said it was a proud moment for him as he was sworn in and his mother Callie Williamson witnessed it.

Williamson said throughout his years as a firefighter he has seen some very horrific fires. He said, “When you have to pull up to a house and the relative tells you that someone is inside and you are their only hope if you can get to them. But then you walk out the door and their eyes focus on yours and there is nothing you can do. I’ve had to do this with women and children. I’m a person who cares about people. What affects me the most is the babies.”

In addition to being known as a firefighter throughout the city, Williamson is also known as the leader of the band “The Fabulous Kings.” He started the group in 1960 and they are still performing to this day.

Williamson said it was a time to turn the fire fighting over to the young men. At the retirement party they hosted in his honor he was very humbled by all of the touching words expressed about him.

He said, “Friends and firefighters came from as far as Hammond, Munster, Lake Ridge and Porter County stations to give me kind words. We have a brotherhood. It says ‘One For All, And All For One.’ I tried to make a difference before I retired and I realize how many people I have touched from all of their speeches.”

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