IGH firefighter marks 40 years of riding the rigs

The Inver Grove Heights City Council has proclaimed July 14, 2013 “Jeff Davis Day” in honor of the 40-year-veteran of the fire department. (submitted photo)

Dropping what you’re doing to rush out to meet an unknown danger is something few people volunteer for. As early as the late 1980s, national firefighting associations were lamenting the dwindling number of volunteer firefighters and brainstorming ways to keep them on call.

Of course, at that point, Inver Grove Heights firefighter Jeff Davis was happily heading toward his 20th year of paid-on-call firefighting, with no thought of quitting.

He’s about to mark his 40th anniversary, and people are invited to join him Sunday, July 14. An open house will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Inver Grove Heights Fire station No. 3, located at 2059 Upper 55th St. The program will begin at 7 p.m.

But let’s be clear: This isn’t a retirement party. Davis, 59, has no immediate plans to leave the fire department.

“I keep saying I will, but I don’t,” he says. “I told myself I’d retire when I hit the 35-year mark, but I never did.”

In just the past 16 years, Davis responded to 6,379 calls (averaging 399 calls a year) and missed only nine of the department’s weekly training sessions. Throughout his 40 years, Davis has responded to more than 10,000 calls.

Accomplishments in the thousands

Judy Thill, Inver Grove Heights Fire Chief, says she considers Davis a top performer in the department and notes his accomplishments are best described “in the thousands.” That would be thousands of hours in training and fire calls plus thousands of hours spent educating children and adults about fire safety.

“Kids respond to him very well,” Thill says. “He’s the type to get down on the floor with the kids to show them ‘Stop, drop and roll.’”

That’s quite a feat, especially for a guy who has arthritic knees and some minor heart problems. At times the knee problems make it difficult for Jeff to crawl during fire calls. “I should wear one of those Life Alerts,” he jokes. “So the guys know ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!’”

However, readers shouldn’t picture Davis hobbling to calls with a cane. He runs several marathons every year, and has participated in 33 Grandma’s Marathons in Duluth.

The dangers of his avocation haven’t stopped him, either. “I’ve had close calls,” he admits. “More than a couple.”

One of those close calls happened about ten years ago, when a wall of plasterboard fell inside a burning house, trapping him. His fellow firefighters managed to free him, but he was hospitalized for his injuries and suffered nerve damage in his right arm.

“There’s been a few times I’ve been hospitalized  and I didn’t tell my mom,” he admits.

But Irene Davis, who lives in Inver Grove Heights, found out about it anyway.

“She found out,” he says. “Moms are moms; they have their ways.”

Irene has always been supportive of her son’s work in the fire department; however, his goddaughter Jessica has been a little more vocal with her concerns. “She’s always trying to get me to retire,” he says. “’You have to retire, you’re going to get hurt,’ she says.”

“I want to retire,” he says. “But... I don’t. I’ll take it month by month for now.”

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