Retired Pine Bluff Fire Chief Ray Jacks, who spent more than half his career leading the Fire and Emergency Services Department, died Tuesday at his home at the age of 90.
“He was the chief when I was hired,” current Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said. “I went off to training at the academy and when I got back he had retired.”
Jacks began work at the Pine Bluff Fire Department in 1949 after serving in World War II and was called back to active duty and sent to Korea, where he served about a year before being discharged and returning to Pine Bluff and the fire department.
He was promoted to driver on March 1, 1955, and later became the first fire marshal in the history of the department on March 1, 1963. He worked with the National Fire Protection Association on issues such as protective clothing and minimum staffing of fire departments, and he was instrumental in designing the Fire and Burn Safety Program, which incorporated fire safety into the children’s “Sesame Street” television program on PBS, according to a story about Jacks’ retirement from the Arkansas Fire Academy.
Jacks was promoted to assistant chief on May 4, 1970, and to chief on Aug. 22, 1972. He remained chief for 26-and-a-half years before retiring in 1999.
“One person spending that long as chief is something you’re probably not going to see again,” Howell said. “Now people getting into the fire service are a little older because they’ve gone to college or been in the military first. We’re not getting those folks basically right out of high school.”
Assistant Fire Chief Ernst Jones, who was hired in 1993 by Jacks, said the former chief wanted his officers to lead by example and only come to him as a last resort.
“The officers were put in place to deal with situations, and he expected them to make good decisions,” Jones said. “He set a high moral compass for the organization, and you were expected to live up to that or you wouldn’t make it. Early in my career, I didn’t understand some of that, but when I became an officer and then a chief officer and had to deal with rules and regulations, I understood why he made some of the decisions he did. He had to make hard decisions and he set the standards for what we are today.”
Battalion Chief Ernest Stacy described Jacks as “a man of his word. What he told you to do and not to do may not have been what you wanted to hear but he stuck with it.”
Stacy said the lessons he learned from Jacks “taught me how to be a better officer.”
The fire academy’s story said Jacks and others worked hard to reduce the work week of firefighters from 72 hours to 63, then to 56 hours a week. Assistant Fire Marshal Lt. Randy Compton, who Jacks hired in 1993, said the chief “was a good manager.”
“He didn’t believe in wasting the taxpayers’ money,” Compton said.
Lt. Fabian Fontenot, who was hired in 1996, said, “There’s no denying who was chief, who was in charge.”
“He was firm but he was fair, and I learned a lot,” Fontenot said. “He set the foundation for where I am today. I’ve been here 22 years and still enjoying the job. He was a role model for me.”
Fire Marshal Lt. Fred Tisdale said Jacks was dedicated to the department and only wanted it to get better, and some of the policies and procedures Jacks implemented when he was fire marshal are still in use today.
Jacks was also a proud family man, those who knew him best said.
“If you wanted to see him really smile, ask him about his two sons,” Jones said. “You would see the dad really come out and the pride he had in them.”
He was the father of two sons, Dr. David C. Jacks and Dr. Dennis W. Jacks, both of Pine Bluff.
Jacks was inducted to the Arkansas Firefighters Hall of Fame in 1995 and was a past president and legislative chairman of the Arkansas Fire Chief’s Association. He was also past president of the Southwestern Division International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Visitation for Chief Jacks will be from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Ralph Robinson and Son Funeral Directors. Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at Robinson with burial at Center Missionary Baptist Church-Rowell Cemetery on U.S. Highway 63 south.
“The family asked us to be involved in the funeral services, and it’s something we’re glad to do,” Howell said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
“He leaves a legacy that we’re still trying to maintain today,” Jones said.