HILL AIR FORCE BASE — To thank and honor Shirley LeRoy Ball for his decades of service as a Hill Air Force Base firefighter, he was named an honorary chief Wednesday on his 100th birthday.
“You spend 30 years, a third of your life, and you don’t forget it that easy,” said Ball, who retired after 31 years of service. “I could talk to you for two or three days and tell you different stories about the whole thing.”
Ball has remained a friend of the fire department ever since.
“He has been around our fire houses for a long time, and he deserves recognition for all he has given to our career field,” Hill Air Force Base Fire Chief Paul Erickson said. “In addition to his more than 30 years as a base firefighter, Chief Ball has been a mentor to many of our Air Force firefighters.”
Hill firefighters and base leadership held a special ceremony in Ball's honor Wednesday.
“This is great,” he said. “This is beyond anything I ever imagined.”
The men and women at the ceremony never worked with Ball, but they know of him.
“His contributions to this department that he’s done over the years, it means a lot to us," Erickson said.
Ball still holds a record safety rating for the least property loss.
“This has been a service that I never imagined I’d ever have,” he said.
Firefighting holds a special place in Ball's heart, said his daughter, Sherryl Hart.
“(It) just kind of defined who he was, I think,” Hart said. “His life, it just revolved around that, because they work 24 hours on and 24 hours off, so it was so much of their life.”
Ball almost became chief several times during his career, he said. Sometimes it didn’t work; sometimes it didn’t pay enough. Honorary chief doesn’t pay anything, but this time it didn’t matter, he said.
“I’m not expecting anything out of that,” Ball said with a laugh, “but it’s quite an honor to have for a place like this, as big as Hill Field is.”
The honor also comes with none of the responsibilities of fire chief.
“If you’re a crew chief, over a crew, your main job is not only directing and training and firefighting, but it’s also that you have to look out for your men, for their protection,” Ball said.
Hart called the honor "very special."
“All he talks about is Hill," she said. "If you want to find out about his life when he was younger, it always kind of turns right toward Hill Field."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company