After 36 years with the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department, Bill Lamb is hanging up his fire axe.
Lamb began as a firefighter in Hamburg in April, 1980. He served as chief of the department in 2002 and 2003, and retired last year.
Lamb was born in Cambridge, Nebraska, and raised in Omaha. He settled in Hamburg in 1965 and began working at the barber shop on Main Street, where he still cuts hair Monday through Thursday.
His fellow firefighters presented Lamb with a mounted golden fire axe on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, at a steak dinner at the firehouse.
“They were almost ready to start serving and they got a call,” Lamb said.
It was the night a 24-year-old man drove his car into the Hamburg swimming pool and died. All but two or three of the firemen rushed to the scene of the emergency.
The men who remained behind surprised Lamb with the axe trophy. “Just out of the blue, there it was,” said Lamb. “They asked for a speech. I couldn't think of anything to say except, 'Thank you!'”
Lamb became assistant foreman, and foreman (supervising fire scenes). He then served as assistant fire chief and secretary until Red Haun retired in 2002, when Lamb became fire chief.
During his 36 years as fireman, Lamb has seen many different fire situations. Grass fires are “very scary” because they move so fast. Hay fires can burn for days because the centers of hay rolls or bales are so tightly compressed. In sub-zero winter weather, firefighters have to chip the ice off their coats and boots.
Lamb once drove a Hamburg firetruck to a burning semitrailer on I-29. The fire came so fast and the smoke was so intense that he could barely breathe and had to retreat into his truck.
 “It was just like a blast furnace, just coming right at you,” he recalled. But he caught a couple good breaths and quickly rejoined the fray to man the pump as the others aimed the hoses. Even then there was so much smoke he couldn't see the other firemen.
Equipment requirements were less strict back then. “We didn't have that many air packs when I got on. Now, every fireman there has one,” said Lamb, referring to the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, or SCBA. “It's changed a lot…you have to go to classes and pass a practical test.”
Lamb recalls only one fire that resulted in a fatality. A boy was trapped inside a burning house, and died. “Property can be replaced. Lives can't.”
Training exercises were the most enjoyable part of the job.
Hamburg is one of several towns whose fire departments can be summoned in an emergency at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Nebraska.
The HVFD has conducted “flash over” training there several times, extinguishing fires that float overhead. A firefighter sprays a small amount of water from the hose and “cools it enough that it just goes away,” said Lamb. “Then the next guy steps in.”
Other training exercises involved burning the old Cargill grain elevator, rescuing people from confined spaces, and extinguishing propane tank fires. On a shelf in his barbershop, Lamb displays a photograph of the propane fire exercise, showing firefighters engulfing a a burning tank in a spheroidal shower of water.
Lamb is upbeat about leaving the Volunteer Fire Department. “I was younger then. Now it's work. It's for young people, not old guys,” he says with a smile.