Community mourns retired Hartford Fire Department Chief
By Jon Bisnett
They lined the pews of the Hartford United Methodist Church on Monday June 12 as the community of Hartford joined with firefighters representing departments across the state to celebrate the life of retired fire chief Harold “Cocky” Walker Jr.
With over four decades of service to the local Hartford Fire Department Walker’s ties to the brotherhood of firefighters extended far beyond the borders of Hartford as was evidenced by those literally all across the Midwest who sent their condolences upon the news of his passing.
Six Degrees of Separation
It’s been a running joke with this reporter that nearly every time any story is told of the history of Hartford, that there is only six degrees of separation from Cocky Walker. Whether it starts with “Back when Cocky was chief…” or references to “Walker’s 66 Station” or when “Cocky Walker worked for the city” or for the school, it is just about impossible to separate the man from the town of Hartford he loved dearly and served for decades. The man was everywhere!
Those who attended the memorial service will chuckle when I say that at times the eulogies took on the flavor of a roast more than a traditional funeral. The notoriously strong-willed Walker earned his nickname “Cocky” over the years as an individual that seldom knew to compromise. But by the same token carried the respect of most he came in contact with due to his uncanny ability to lead, manage, assess and develop solutions.
For all the various hats Cocky wore over the years countless individuals remember him as mentor. That guy you could sit down and have a good talk with and know somehow he’d have some thoughts that could shed a different light or a better way to approach the situation.
Known as an exceptional trainer in firefighting certifications, many may not know Cocky worked for the University of Michigan long before statewide certifications existed, teaching an early firefighters course that ultimately led to the programs now considered standard training for all firefighters.
Recognized also as an innovator, it’s said that Walker was one of the early proponents of fighting fire with fire. In the days when Cocky’s father preceded him as fire chief the standard operating procedure was for the truck to arrive on scene and pour as much water as possible until the fire was extinguished. Cocky was an early promoter of the discipline whereby firefighters would penetrate the structure and disrupt the fire from the inside out, limiting the spread by sealing off paths for the fire to follow.
Retired Hartford Fire Dept. Chief
Harold “Cocky” Walker Jr.
Understand that Cocky held no degree in engineering or thermal dynamics but was just really good at figuring things out. Researching this article revealed a 1950s story in the Hartford Day Spring archive where Cocky, working for the city was experimenting with an idea on how to keep the sidewalks clear of snow by running heated water pipes underneath the concrete and a fan on top to dry the melted snow.
Even in his later years, long after retiring from active duty, Cocky would often answer the call alongside the HFD and could be observed studying the scene. And whether he wanted to or not, the active chief would typically get a bit of advice as to what might have been done better. Always learning and always teaching; driven to find a better solution to fight the fire. Known of course for his huge level of knowledge, but even better recognized for his applied wisdom is how his contemporaries describe Cocky.
There is no doubt that “Cocky” came by his nickname for good reason, but it certainly helps to be right a large percentage of the time, especially when founded with a great deal of common sense and many years of experience.
Walker’s reputation in the fire service industry extended far beyond the borders of Michigan. Cocky maintained his own fire apparatus business for over a decade not to mention his work as a product development consultant and salesman for fire truck fabricator Spencer Manufacturing of South Haven, which put him in contact with departments from several states.
Even after health issues necessitated his formal retirement, you could still find Cocky holding court at dollar-burger night at the Arrowhead, always glad to shake a hand, lend an ear and give you