About this article
- This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of 400-The Life, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
To this day, Forsyth County Fire Chief Danny Bowman can remember the smell of his daddy’s shoe polish. I can smell brasso right now,” he said matter-of-factly. “Kiwi shoe polish ... every night he was home.” Born across from Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheater to a sergeant major — the highest enlisted military rank — Bowman has a keen memory and a passion for history. To tell the life of the 67-year-old career fireman, one merely needs to look at seven of his most prized possessions … from his family history to his engine trucks.
For the last decade, Bowman, with the help of professional genealogists, has researched his family’s name, tracing his family history (1) to the 1700s. His interest lies with the fathers-of-fathers, which has led him across the pond to England. His research, he said, was confirmed by a DNA analysis.
Bowman’s interest does not lie solely in his family’s history, however. As a child living in downtown Atlanta, he collected newspapers (2), the walls of his office at the Forsyth County Fire Department lined with headlines announcing the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and later of Lee Harvey Oswald’s death. Today, papers announcing Martin Luther King Jr.’s death are hard to come by — something Bowman said in hindsight, he wishes he could have foreseen. “If I’d have known that back in 1968, I’d have gone and bought all those newspapers back then,” he said.
[History] is not an interest — it’s an absolute passion. I don’t want to know just what happened. I want to know why.Danny Bowman, fire chief, Forsyth County
As an 18-year-old in 1968, Bowman, like many other American teens at the time, was called to serve in the military. Though he served in the Air Force, ultimately, he made his career in the fire service — a paramilitary organization. “Dad had traveled so much — he had traveled the world — and I was just sort of a homebody,” he said. “I got married and next thing you know, Kimberly, my little baby, comes along and that took care of that.”
As a rookie with the Atlanta Fire Department in 1968, Bowman was required to watch the “joker system” (3) — an apparatus that would punch out the number of any fire alarm box in Atlanta that had been pulled. Each week, he polished and shined the machine, ensuring it was ready for operation.
Just three years into his firefighting career, which is now in its 48th year, Bowman was dispatched to 104 Luckie Street in downtown Atlanta to combat a structure fire. A natural gas explosion within the blaze killed four firemen that day, a history of which Bowman’s wife, Donna, spent two years researching. “Luckily, I was blown out of the building and across the street,” he said. “I don’t remember landing. I remember flying, but I don’t remember landing.” “Tragedy on Luckie Street” (4) tells the story of that day – May 29, 1971.
Just as his wife spent two years researching the events on Luckie Street, Bowman has collected more than 7,200 pages of photographic history of the fire service (5). The overwhelming majority of the photos are of the Atlanta Fire Department, kept in 72 100-page photo albums filed neatly in a bookshelf adjacent to Bowman’s office. Since arriving in Forsyth in 2001, he has also spent the last 16 years completing a history of the county’s fire department, which has not been published.
“[History] is not an interest, — it’s an absolute passion,” Bowman said. “I don’t want to know just what happened. I want to know why. All things history.” As much as he wants to learn history, Bowman is also a part of it. Accepted into Freemasonry (6) 45 years ago, he was honored with the title “Worshipful Master” in 2016.
Though he has been a Freemason for 45 years, Bowman has treasured his fire trucks (7) for the last 48. From driving an Atlanta Fire Department 1952 Mack pumper truck to making sure all Forsyth County fire apparatuses are uniform, the vehicles mesmerize him and are “the single object which most define" Bowman.