JVVFD honors retiring chief Don Southwick | RecordCourier.com
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JVVFD honors retiring chief Don Southwick

Linda Hiller

Don Southwick is not a quitter. He has worked as a technical training engineer at Bently Nevada for 25 years. He has been married to Susan for 29 years.

So when he decided to retire from his position as chief of the Jacks Valley Volunteer Fire Department after eight years, no one could really complain.

“I needed a break,” he said. “I am technically on inactive service right now, but I’m still a member of the group. I told the new chief, Jack Norberg, that if we had another summer from hell like last year, I would be happy to come drive a tender or something.”

Sheila Clement, secretary of the Jacks Valley Volunteer Fire Department and 16-year JVVFD volunteer, said both Southwick and his wife received awards of appreciation at the business meeting of the JVVFD last month.

Don got a belt buckle and Susan got a pin to commemorate the dedication and sacrifice they both have given to the department over the years.

“We know Don won’t be going away,” Clement said. “He said he probably won’t be able to resist answering the fire calls.”

The fire and paramedic departments in the Valley are all primarily volunteer. Only the few top positions in the East Fork Fire and Paramedic District – chief Jim Reinhardt, deputy chief Dave Drew, fire inspector and plans examiner Steve Eisele and the district’s secretaries – get a salary. Everyone else works for free.

“Actually, we have to pay $5 a year to be in the department,” Southwick, said with a laugh. He started as a volunteer with JVVFD in June, 1978.

Why do it?

“Well, the desire to help people and make the area a better place to live is probably utmost. My dad was a volunteer fireman and my grandfather was, too. When you live in a small town in a rural area, you realize that we all have to pitch in.”

Clement, who is also an Emergency Medical Technician, agrees.

“You get to feel an allegiance to the area where you live,” she said. “Plus, the challenge and excitement is invigorating. There’s also the camaraderie with the other depratment members.”

Jack Norberg, the new chief of JVVFD, said the reason he has volunteered for the last ten years is similar.

“Knowing I can provide protection to people in the area is a big part of it,” he said. “It gives you a good feeling when you can help.

“Plus, I have the key to the station,” he added with a laugh.

Norberg said his training and experience as an EMT through the district has been invaluable in his personal life.

“When my own father was sick and dying, I was able to help him with what I knew from EMT work,” he said. “It was really worth it.”

Norberg said he is already surprised at the amount of work involved in being chief in the short time he has held the position – since being elected Feb. 1.

“I sort of had an idea from being deputy chief since 1988,” he said, “but now I really appreciate the eight years Don put in as chief.”

Southwick expressed some embarrassment at any attention being focused on him.

“There are other chiefs that have been here longer than me,” he said, “and countless other volunteers that have been here longer than me. Why me and not someone else?”

According to East Fork Fire and Paramedic District deputy fire chief, Dave Drew, Southwick has earned the praise.

“Don shouldn’t be so humble,” he said. “He has put in a lot of hours and deserves all the credit for his dedication.”

One of Drew’s duties is to keep track of the thousands of volunteer hours dedicated to training in the district.

“We haven’t got the figures for 1996 yet, but in 1995, volunteers put on over 13,000 hours in training alone,” he said. “This doesn’t even include the time spent fighting fires and going out on medical calls.”

Under the umbrella of the East Fork Fire and Paramedic District, there are stations, or departments, in Fish Springs, Gardnerville, Genoa, Johnson Lane, Gardnerville Ranchos, Minden, Ruhenstroth, Sheridan Acres, Topaz Lake, Topaz Ranch Estates in addition to Jacks Valley.

Because of their proximity to United States Forest Service land, JVVFD and the Sheridan Acres department both have additional parentage with the Nevada Division of Forestry.

Most fire districts have their own monthly meeting schedules.

JVVFD meets each Tuesday evening. The 4th Tuesday is dedicated to formal training, sometimes done in conjunction with the Johnson Lane department and occasionally with the whole East Fork department.

The chief is usually required to be at each meeting.

Ken Kohler, the new assistant chief of the JVVFD, said many non-ladder-climbing positions are available at the department right now.

“We always welcome active hose and ladder operators, but we also need seniors with knowledge to share, and people to help with the newsletter as well as other less strenuous activities,” he said.

Southwick agreed. “You don’t need to be a 20-year-old Rambo to volunteer. Some of our most important positions involve handling the bookwork that naturally comes with a fire department.”

Volunteers who wish to pursue EMT training through the East Fork district are given over 160 hours of training for free.

“I’d say that two-thirds to three-fourths of our calls are medical, so the EMT’s are really valuable,” Southwick said.

The Jacks Valley Fire Department can be reached at 885-9369, or you can call Norberg at 883-1600 or 267-3225.

To volunteer for other districts, call Drew at 782-9047 or stop by your nearest fire station.