It’s been one year since the Paris Fire Department lost a favored member of its crew. Though the crew is sad Slade Baker passed away, some say remembering him helps fill the void.
One of the youngest firefighters with the Paris Fire Department, Baker made “such an impact on grown men” in less than his two years with PFD.
“If not now then more than ever, he taught me how to appreciate what you have and the friendships you have,” Austin Sugg with Paris Fire Department said. “Slade made sure everyone knew he cared about them, that he loved them, that he loved his job, his family, that he loved God. I can’t imagine Slade would change anything.”
Cade Oats, Paris Fire Department Driver, echoing Sugg, said Baker embraced the idea of not taking people nor things for granted.
“It truly goes to show you don’t know when your time’s going to be,” Oats said. “Just love those dear to you and let them know it. Live life, cause he did. He enjoyed life.”
Former Paris Firefighter Adam Bolton said Baker was the type of person who took charge of every day and every situation tossed at him.
“He was teaching that lesson before he passed away,” Bolton said. “Show up, smile and work hard. It’s easy to smile and laugh when he’s there next to you. But when you know it’s your job and obligation to make every day special because he did, and he doesn’t get to anymore, it’s in the same vein of don’t take things for granted.”
Sugg said Baker never worried about much.
“He was pretty worry-free,” Sugg said. “We all have our problems, and Slade had his own. But he didn’t let you know it. He was a very uplifting guy who stayed upbeat, and he always made sure someone had a smile on their face.”
Sugg and Baker went to the fire academy together, and Sugg was able to watch Baker’s growth from the fire academy to being on the team.
“I got to watch how he was treated and how he treated others,” Sugg said. “He was the definition of a guy who’d give his shirt off his back for you. It was neat to get to know him when he got here, and when he had been here a while. There wasn’t much of a difference; Slade was Slade.”
Oats said Baker breathed life into any social gathering or group he was involved in, and he tried to make everyone smile.
“He wanted people to be smiling. He wanted them to laugh,” Oats said. “He would work every bit of overtime he could get at the fire department. If he didn’t get overtime and someone on another shift couldn’t work, he’d step up for them.”
Oats said Baker picked up a few hours for him one Christmas morning so Oats could spend time with his family before working.
“I have two young kids, and I had to work Christmas morning. Slade came to me and asked to work that morning, ‘so you can do Santa Claus with your family,’” Oats said. “That’s a definition of Slade. He was willing to do whatever it took to help others. He wanted to always help.”
Bolton said Baker was a giver of time or energy.
“Everything Slade did was to be with and better other people he was around,” Bolton said. “He wanted to be around people and lift them up any way he could.”
Memories of Baker
Oats compared Baker’s strength to a bear and said he didn’t know his own strength.
“One Saturday we were watching the Longhorn game,” Oats said through laughter. “There were three of us on duty who were big Longhorn fans, and Slade’s a big LSU fan. He would come in throwing the horns down the sign, and we told him, ‘next time you do that, we’re whipping you.’”
He said Baker put the sign up again, and as soon as he turned his back, Oats was one of the first ones jumping on top of him.
“I was the smallest out of the group. I jumped on his back, a couple of others jumped on and we took him to the ground,” Oats said laughing. “We were wrestling him and it took three of us to hold him. All of a sudden my leg is getting cranked. Jones had my ankle saying, ‘I got you, Slade. Just give up.’ Slade’s just laughing. You want to talk about demoralizing? Three grown men jump on him and he’s laughing at you.”
Working with Baker, the group has some fond memories from their first time watching him work to his love for the job.
“We were in a house that wasn’t ideal,” Sugg said while laughing. “It was a call that nothing bad was going on, but it didn’t smell great in the house. Slade and I were in there working. He’s a good hand, never backed down from work. But I look up at one point when it’s not ideal and Slade’s nowhere to be found.”
Oats said Baker was a “workhorse and would work circles around a lot of people.”
“You’d be dog tired and he’d look dog tired, he probably was, but he wouldn’t let you see it,” he said.
Adding to Oats’ comment, Sugg said Baker had a true love for firefighting.
“He was the guy who knew at a young age – I think he was in high school – that’s what he wanted to do,” Sugg said. “He had no other vested interest other than loving the job. And that showed every day.”
Bolton said one of his clearest memories of working with Baker was when they worked a structure fire.
“There’s a lot of ideas you have in your mind that don’t pan out once you get there. I ended up watching Slade, because he had been in the department a little bit longer than me,” Bolton said. “Watching him climb up the ladder and take the attic and doing what needed to be done not only set the example for me of how to do the job but it helped set the pace.”
“I knew just by watching everybody work together that he was doing the right thing at the right time. Every other situation past that I tried to fill into that pace that he set on that call.”
Baker’s contagious smile
As Baker passed away a year ago, the group said they will miss his smile.
“It was contagious,” Oats said. “It was hard to be around him and not smile. He made you feel like you were his best friend, and he always treated everyone like they were his best friends.”
Sugg said, though Baker had only been with the fire department for about two years, “he was just about instrumental to the fire department.
“Slade made such an impact on so many people in so many ways, you can’t be up there and in some way not remember him,” Sugg said. “We’re sad he’s gone, but there’s a lot more good emotions when we remember Slade. We’re glad we had him.”
Oats said Baker made a significant impact on the department in the short time he was with them.
“For a young guy to come into a career like the fire department and make an impact on grown men like he did in the short time, that to me shows the type of personality and type of person he was,” Oats said. ”He truly made an impact not just the department, but each individual person.”
“For the short time he worked at the fire department, he left a big hole,” Oats said, “there’s a big hole in the department for sure.”
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