DALLAS — He was one in a million. Voiced by one of Delbert Fredricks’ three daughters, the saying doesn’t overstate the impact the longtime fire department volunteer had on his community.
Fredricks, 87, died Feb. 27 after more than 65 years of volunteering for Dallas Fire & EMS, a record of dedication that may never be matched.
He moved to Dallas with his family in 1941 and was a graduate of Dallas High School in 1947. Fredricks became a volunteer firefighter in 1951, shortly before marrying his wife, Agnes, in 1952.
“He was a teacher of all of us in the department. He was our mentor,” said Mike Bollman, who joined Dallas Fire in 1985, and recalled with affection the lessons he learned from his friend.
Among the first and foremost was that certain vehicles in the fire department fleet belonged to Fredricks. Bollman recalled Fredricks’ claim to a truck called Rescue 6 when it was brand new.
“That rescue was Delbert’s. You didn’t challenge him to drive it, you were lucky enough to ride in the back,” Bollman said.
While there were certain rules new recruits to the fire department learned about Fredricks, they also quickly found out that, in Bollman’s words, he “was always there to help.”
“He was more than our friend. More importantly, he was family. He was our family,” Bollman said. “We loved him like a dad and a grandfather, and probably some like a brother.”
Dallas honored Fredricks’ legacy Saturday at a funeral service at Dallas Fire Station that combined loving and funny memories of the firefighter, father and man that he was with long-standing fire service traditions.
Members of the community — along with a large contingent of Dallas firefighters and those from surrounding departments — crowded into the bays normally occupied by fire engines and rescue vehicles for the service.
Fredricks served as a firefighter, engineer, captain and battalion chief in his years with the department. When he could no longer actively respond to calls, he served in other ways.
As Eriks Gabliks, the volunteer firefighters’ association president, noted, he never lost his love of the action, even after doctor’s orders told him to take it easy.
“Apparently only his doctors listened to what Delbert was told, because he didn’t,” Gabliks said.
He and his dog would walk to incidents in town — or if it was too far to walk, he would drive.
“It was often that he would be there before the duty officer,” he said. “He never really slowed down.”
His version of “slowing down” was overseeing his “pop machine empire,” three soda machines at the fire station, city hall and city shops that helped raise money for the volunteer department.
Gabliks said Fredricks gave a detailed report on the money raised through the pop machines each January at the department’s annual business meeting.
“This was the equivalent of the Dallas Fire Department Dow Jones report,” Gabliks said. “It was truly a much-awaited event, and Delbert took a lot of time to do that.”
Gabliks said Fredricks could be a little cantankerous with his comments and questions during monthly business meetings, but he cared for his fellow firefighters. That showed through what Gabliks believed is the other purpose behind “Del’s pop shop” at the fire station.
“Delbert realized that if we had a pop after a call, we could discuss the incident we just returned from, check on each other and make sure everyone was OK,” Gabliks said.
Fredricks was famous for another attribute — his ability to remember everything.
“He had the greatest memory of any one I have ever met,” Bollman said.
He put those memories into the fire department newsletter, “Just Rambling.” It wasn’t just one page, but many, every month packed with new events and department history.
Fredricks’ dedication to the fire department may be what most remember him for — he was among the first class inducted into the department’s Wall of Honor — but he was no less a family man.
“To us, his girls, he was dad. Not many were in this group — just three. It’s an exclusive club,” said daughter Colleen Pinner. “Our growing up was simple, but rich in many ways.”
She said he kept a baseball in his glove box that he would pull out every so often when she was younger.
“We would toss it around, and we would just talk,” she said. “A couple of years ago, he opened his glove box, pulled out that ball and asked if I knew what it was. He had been carrying it around all these years.”
Before the final bell rang Saturday marking the end of Fredricks’ service, Gabliks expressed appreciation for the department’s volunteer extraordinaire’s family.
“I thank Agnes and Delbert’s family for sharing him with us,” he said.