By Brian Besch
Masses gathered Thursday at First United Methodist Church to remember a former fire chief, friend and mentor to many.
Billy Roy “B.R.” Haynes died March 13 at the age of 94. In tribute, a procession of first-responder vehicles made their way with Haynes for one last trip by Livingston Fire Department Station 1 before ending at Peebles Cemetery.
Growing up in Livingston, Haynes played football for the Lions and graduated in 1943. After enlisting with the Merchant Marines during World War II, he joined the family business (Haynes Manufacturing Co., now Little Beaver, Inc.) with his father. After his father’s retirement, he took over the business and would later pass it on to his sons.
Haynes was 1972’s Polk Countian of the Year and a 32nd-degree Mason. He was a member of the board of directors of First State Bank of Livingston since 1981, serving as Director Emeritus since 1997.
Joining the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department in 1960, Haynes was elected chief just three years later. He was president of the Texas State Fireman’s and Fire Marshall’s Association in 1970. He served with Livingston Fire until his retirement in 1977 and will forever be known as Chief Haynes, Unit 3.
He will be remembered by many, including current Livingston Fire Chief Corky Cochran, as someone who laid the foundation for what the department has become.
“He passed a lot of knowledge and common sense, not only to me, but every person that served with him and under him,” Cochran said. “He came into the fire department at a time when it was in really bad shape because of a lack of equipment and supplies that were needed. The training was not up to par and B.R. was able to do the things that put the puzzle back together to take the fire department back in the direction that it is now. If it hadn't been for what he did then, we wouldn't be where we are now. He was the springboard that pushed the fire department out of the Dark Ages and toward modernization.”
Cochran said Haynes was a father figure to younger firefighters who served under him and a leader amongst those his age. “He had the ability — whoever he was working with — to connect and make people feel comfortable and follow his lead,” Cochran said. A number of firefighters attended Thursday's funeral from the far reaches of the state. Fire departments from Riverside, Huntsville, Tarkington and Cleveland covered the shift for those at Fire Station 1 in Livingston, allowing local regulars to attend the funeral.
Cochran said firefighters cover for each other when there is a family member or fellow firefighter who dies — a brotherhood that comes forward to help. He said it's something that dates back to Haynes’s early days, when Polk County had just two fire stations.
“When he first came in, there were two departments in the county: Livingston and Corrigan,” Cochran said. “Our next two closest neighbors that we called on for help were Huntsville and Cleveland. When something happened, they would help each other out.”
Haynes also had an impact on the Huntsville Fire Department, as well as many of the departments operating in Polk County today.
“Jack King was a good friend of B.R.’s, and in 1972, Jack was in the department over there and became fire chief. The Huntsville Fire Department was a lot like Livingston was when Jack took over. There was a total lack of equipment and couldn't get any help to get the stuff they needed. When Jack became chief, he began to rattle cages like B.R. did, but sought B.R.’s help. B.R. helped by giving him some guidance on things that he had experienced and got the Huntsville department back on track.
“Right here in Polk County, he helped Scenic Loop, Onalaska, the Alabama-Coushatta Nation and Indian Springs. They all came in about the same time in the mid-‘70s. He helped all of those departments as they were getting organized.”