The Key Peninsula Volunteer Firefighters Association and Fire District 16 honored its longest-serving member at the Sept. 12 commission meeting, commending Jerry Marsh for 50 years of service.
Marsh, 78, signed on in September 1973 and never stopped.
“Anyone that has had the privilege to work with Jerry knows that service and perfectionism is what drives him,” said Volunteer Battalion Chief Anne Nesbit at the ceremony. “Jerry has set the bar higher than anyone, career or volunteer, in the history of this department. There is no higher compliment one can receive than a positive nod of approval from Jerry.”
The department awarded Marsh its first-ever challenge coin in a salute to his career and contributions.
“I wanted to serve this community when I first showed up out here,” Marsh said.
That was when he came to the Key Peninsula to visit his parents’ new house in 1970. He was in the Navy at the time but liked the place and eventually built his own home in 1973 when he got married.
“I had some skills that I could offer to the department,” Marsh said. He was an electronics technician in the Navy and went to work for the civil service selling and repairing a variety of radio and related equipment. “So, communications is my bag,” he said.
Marsh still “works on the wiring,” as he put it, but was also an EMT, responded to fires, and now drives the district’s largest water tender, at 2,500 gallons, to replenish fire engines out on calls.
“It was an all-volunteer department, and we were doing our own dispatching,” he said of his early days. “There was no 911; you called a telephone number, people would pick up, and then we’d have a dispatcher get on the radio. You’d figure out who’s gonna go get the ambulance, who’s gonna get the fire trucks, who’s gonna go through this, and so on.”
There were about 60 volunteers at the time Marsh said, or about 10 per station plus Herron Island. “We didn’t know who they all were. We didn’t drill all at once.”
Judy Marsh said they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the first week of September. “It was a surprise the first time when he got called,” she said. “We were getting ready to go somewhere and then, nope, gotta go do this. It was the gas station in Home and that was a rippin’ fire. But since then we got used to it.”
Judy was on the radios during emergencies, relaying information to different volunteers. “I didn’t mind doing that; I was a telephone operator,” she said.
Both of their sons also became KPFD volunteers.
Jerry said he has no plans to retire from the department. He still weighs in on communication issues — among many other things — even inspecting the wiring in the rigs himself.
“The fire department is great,” he said. “My wife has gone through three heart attacks, and they brought her back. The doctor said she shouldn’t be here, but because of the fire department paramedics, she’s still here. What I do not like is when we train them and they go somewhere else, you know, like the kids leaving home.
“There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “And that’s why I’m still here.”
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