by Cori Hilsgen
Assistant Fire Chief Justin Honer recently hung up his fire gear and retired from the St. Joseph Volunteer Fire Department after 21 years of service.
St. Joseph Fire Chief Jeff Taufen said it’s always hard to see someone leave the department, but Honer’s retirement is a little harder for him because they know each other so well.
The two men have been friends since they were children, attending Kennedy Elementary and graduating from Apollo High School together. They even lived together in the same house after graduating from high school.
“He’s been my best friend and was my best man at my wedding,” Taufen said. “It’s tough to see him leave – but understandable.”
Taufen said because they knew each other well, they worked well together.
“Justin knew the job, got things done and moved on,” Taufen said. “When we worked together, it was our goal every firefighter who left the hall came back to the hall.”
Honer and Taufen both joined the fire department in October 1996. Honer became the assistant chief when Taufen became the chief, doing so for the past nine years.
Before becoming assistant chief, Honer was a captain in the department for two years when Randy Torberg was fire chief and then he was a firefighter for 10 years when Dave Theisen was fire chief.
“He was a great pump operator,” Taufen said.
Honer said one of his best experiences was when he was accepted to the department after he applied.
His first year with the department was when they were still located in the old fire station. They have been at the new fire station for the past 20 years.
Some of Honer’s duties as assistant chief included assisting the chief with all duties, decision making, training, helping cover events, helping make calls on the scene and covering for the chief when he was gone.
One of the reasons Honer retired is because he no longer lives in the area.
He said after 21 years it was time to retire to spend more time with his family and friends. His family includes his girlfriend, Dawn Haase, and his daughter, Madison.
Because of confidentiality laws, Honer said he can’t discuss many of the experiences he had with the department.
“I always appreciated when a bad call turned into a good call because of being able to save someone’s life and other good outcomes,” he said.
Honer said he would encourage other people to join the fire department. He said through his experience with the department, he gained new friends, knowledge, helped people in the area and learned how to cope with everything from tragic situations to happy endings.
“It’s a good experience and you gain another whole family of people,” he said.
Captain Dave Salzer will replace Honer as assistant chief.
“Dave will fit the position well and do a good job,” Taufen said.
He said he and Honer had planned to retire at the same time but he isn’t ready to retire yet and still enjoys being the department’s chief.
Honer continues to own and operate his business, Honer Excavating in St. Joseph, which he has owned for 15 years.
The St. Joseph Fire Department, originally called Hook and Ladder Co. 1, has been providing fire protection services since about 1855. The name was formally changed to the St. Joseph Fire Department in 1892. The department is part of the City of St. Joseph but managed by the St. Joseph Fire Board.