Hero Spotlight: Deputy Chief James Price “Pete” Leach
Born 1919 Died June 14, 1972
Entered the MFD 1942 as a private on Engine 4
Entered WWII from 1943 to 1946
1952-53 assignment: Train the First Rescue Company
In 1959 he was awarded the Civitan Club award Outstanding Fire Fighter of the year for his work record and his contributions to community life.
He was a past commander of the American Legion Post # 1
1959 he was promoted to District Chief and Assistant Fire Marshall and then Battalion 1 A shift.
1969 he was promoted to Deputy Chief, one of only 4 on the MFD.
When I was 14 in 1964 my grandmother gave me a 20-year subscription to Fire Engineering magazine for Christmas and, later that year in August a Fire and Police tube Radio. I listened 24/7, looked up the streets on an Esso map, and recognized the voices of the chiefs I would soon meet. That same year I attended the Fire Department Instructors Conference at the Ellis Auditorium. I met Fire Chief Hamilton. We struck up a conversation and he invited me to visit him at the old Fire HQ. The day I was there he introduced me to his command staff and told them that from this day forward they would treat me as one of their own. At the time I really didn’t know what that meant but he seemed to know that I was a kid in trouble. At the end of the meeting all of these guys, my heroes, came up to me and he introduced them. Chief Leach came up and introduced himself and said, “ You are my paperboy aren’t you? ” I said yes sir I am. He then told me to come over to his house anytime I wanted to. I lived 5 blocks away and for the next 8 years, I actually spent more time at his home than I did at my own home. He was everything to me. He is the main reason I know what I know about the Fire Service. He was a guy who treated the newest private on the job the same way he did the Fire Commissioner. I learned so many great qualities from him.
When he was Battalion 1 Chief he would have my mom pack a knapsack for me with three changes of clothes. He knew I was going to get dirty. He also picked me and took me with him to the station. I got to ride Engine 1 with Captain Cecil J. Greenland and with A.J. Santucci driving. When the Cotton Carnival was in town we would ride through the midway as we checked out all of the concession stands, and on the days when Engine 1 had to test hose, I was there doing manual labor. The engine was a 1500-gallon pumper and carried a 3” hose with brass butts, very heavy. The guys on Truck 2 and Engine 1 treated me as one of the guys, they taught me how to roll, hang, and load hose and, yes they played a lot of tricks on me especially those that involved the use of water. At the end of the day, Chief Leach would take me to Madison and Dunlap and District Chief Bob Walker in Battalion 4 would pick me up and take me to Union extended and the ICRR where District Chief Pete Perry in Battalion 6 would take me to Poplar and Goodlett where District Chief Kilpatrick in Battalion 7 would take me home. If the Chief transporting me caught a call I went with him, talk about great experiences. I was so blessed. The Memphis Fire Department treated me just like I was one of the guys. I grew up quickly. During this period of time, I spent many days in the Fire Alarm Office learning the ins and outs as well as many of the secrets.
In 1969 when he was a Deputy Chief he would tell me that on Friday nights if he was off he wanted me to spend time with him. The Chief had insomnia some kind of bad and it was normal for him, even when on duty at night to drop his Aid ( Driver ) Ed Clark off at the Fire Alarm office and he would ride the streets of Memphis. So, even off duty, he would do the same with me in tow. We would go in neighborhoods you wouldn’t be in in the daytime. He taught me about how the city was laid out and how the Fire department worked. This was in the day when the Fire Station watchman was awake. Then, he would go to the donut store at Madison and Avalon and get 6 dozen donuts and take them to the 11’s on Union, wake the entire house and they would all go down and drink coffee and eat donuts. The men loved him. He took great care to make sure he treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated. He and I would respond to fires and ambulance calls. By age 16, I knew how to read smoke and the fire conditions at a building. He went out of his way to teach me so many life lessons as well as fire service lessons. He always told me that, “when you get on the Fire Department, try and leave the job better than you found it.”
Written by Joe Lowry with research and editorial assistance by Trish Gully.
3 thoughts on “Hero Spotlight: Deputy Chief James Price “Pete” Leach”
Great background story Joe. Love it. Thanks for sharing.
Love these Memphis real life stories! Great work, Joe.
Wonderful job. Sure enjoy since my late father-in-law, Deputy Chief Lew Bilbrey, was also the salt of the earth. Would really enjoy an article about him if possible. Think 1958 is when he retired after 33 years on the MFD. Thanks in advance.