Inver Grove Heights firefighter serves for 40 years and counting

  • Article by: LIALA HELAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2013 - 9:41 PM

An Inver Grove Heights volunteer firefighter has served for 40 years and is still going. He’s been to more than 10,000 fire and rescue calls.

The story that’s been told for more than a decade is that the mayor was lost and Jeff Davis found him.

About 15 years ago, Inver Grove Heights firefighter George Tourville, who is now the city’s mayor, fell into a mechanics’ pit while fighting a fire at a truck garage. Fellow firefighter Davis was the first to find him.

“I fell quite a ways and couldn’t breathe because I had broken ribs, and I couldn’t get myself up on all fours because I had a broken wrist and a broken thumb,” Tourville said. “We couldn’t see anything inside when we got there. It was totally black.”

Davis says he heard moaning and followed the sound. “All of a sudden, I heard someone very faint: ‘Help, help,’ ” Davis said. “I found him out of sheer luck.”

But luck is not what his colleagues say makes Davis, 59, a rare volunteer firefighter. It’s passion, dedication, love of his community and an ability to relate to people of all ages and teach them everything he knows about fire safety and prevention.

The lifelong Inver Grove Heights resident last week celebrated 40 years of service to the fire department. And he doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

“I’d call him extraordinarily dedicated,” said Inver Grove Heights Fire Chief Judy Thill. “And that’s not just because he’s lasted 40 years, but because he’s performed at such a high level for 40 years.”

He has one of the highest attendance records in the history of the department, and is the longest-serving firefighter in the city. In the last 16 years, Davis has responded to more than 6,300 calls, averaging about 400 per year. Thill says it’s safe to say that over the past 40 years, he’s responded to well over 10,000 calls. And for the past eight years, he’s made 100 percent of his weekly drills, even with his full-time job.

“I just do the best I can,” Davis said. “I’m kind of slowing down a bit,” he said, joking about his age, “but I try to make all the calls I can. That’s a lot of calls. It just makes me proud that I can still get up and do it.”

Davis joined the fire department in 1973, shortly after graduating high school. The city had just built the station and was looking for volunteers.

“It was a heck of a lot different,” he said. “We rode on the back of the fire trucks, and back then, we just had real long rubber coats and big rubber boots that came up close to your hips. They weren’t very good for fire fighting [in Minnesota]. Just not warm enough on the back of the fire truck when it’s 30, 40 below. But it was fun.”

‘I’m a kid myself’

What kept him going all these years? “I just like doing it,” Davis said.

He especially likes working with kids, teaching them fire prevention. Davis’ face lights up when he talks about it.

“I’m a kid myself,” he said. “I’m not married, I don’t have kids, but I enjoy working with kids. If we have our open house, I get right in the bouncy house with the kids. At National Night Out a few years ago, people had a sprinkler out and I ran right through it with the kids. I just like kids.”

Assistant Fire Chief Eric Bergum calls Davis a “fire prevention enthusiast.”

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  • Firefighters lined up to shake the hand of Jeff Davis after he received multiple awards in honor of 40 years of exemplary service as a paid-on-call volunteer firefighter.

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