A volunteer fire chief’s retirement, one year later

By Daniel Nash

The Courier-Herald

Some people may be more apt to run away from a fire than toward one, and it takes a special kind of person to consider running toward a fire their kind of fun. But a select few do just that, serving in their community as volunteer firefighters.

Jake Doty served as a volunteer firefighter in the South Prairie area for nearly 47 years, ending his career at the start of the year. He was able to see massive changes during his years of service.

“It’s a lot of work now, but it’s still fun,” he said. “It’s a different type of fun, but still fun in a crazy way. We’re not the people trying to get away from the fire, we’re trying to get in. It’s just the challenge of beating that fire down in the house. Who’s going to run, you or them?”

When Doty began service in 1962 as an 18-year-old, the volunteer firefighters of District 12 would rush to a fire in their street clothes, sometimes purposely missing the truck so they could arrive at the scene in the warmth of their own car. After a few years, when the station received two air tanks, the firefighters would avoid wearing one because they didn’t see the purpose of it, Doty said.

Still, some of the stories about bravado in the good old days of firefighting are exaggerations, he said. Contrary to stories he still hears to this day, firefighters wouldn’t blindly rush into a burning building. They would always keep their toes to the doorframe so they could get out of harm’s way easily. They would aim the hose through a window that led directly to the fire.

By 1980, the role of the volunteer firefighter began to change. Doty was moving up the ranks, from lieutenant to captain to assistant chief. The community was expecting a greater level of service and training, even from its volunteers.

“We went from (offering) general first aid until a lot of guys said ‘hell, we’re being doctors,’” he said. The volunteers took courses in first-responder training, just 20 hours short of the emergency medical technician training.

Doty became the fire chief for South Prairie in 1983 and served until Pierce County Fire District 12 began the process of merging with East Pierce Fire and Rescue. During his last year, he was chief of the entire East Pierce district.

Later, then-Chief Dan Packer called Doty, asking him to replace the existing volunteer chief.

Making the change was never too difficult because he always had help from his team, Doty said. The volunteers became a well-trained resource to the career firefighters. They improved their first responder credentials by attending classes to become EMTs.

“We went from ‘come all, play all’ to a professional, modern day fire department,” he said.

Doty will officially retire Jan. 1, but is using accumulated vacation time and has seen his last days of active duty. The celebration of his exit from service took place Dec. 5.

He keeps the emergency scanner on in the house he shares with his wife Sue, but is spending time hunting deer and maintaining a business, Joe’s Welding.

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