by Heidi L. Everett
In January, three St. Joseph firefighters retired after collectively amassing nearly 100 years of service.
Keith Simon retired Jan. 1 after 20 years of service, Jim Marthaler retired Jan. 2 with 43 years of service and Randy Torborg retired Jan. 10 with 32 years of service.
Simon, who serves full time as a deputy with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, first became a volunteer firefighter in Rockville when he was 18 because he knew others on the force. He joined the St. Joseph team when he moved to the area in 2000 because he loves giving back and helping others. Simon was treasurer and also served as a captain.
His two separate jobs – sheriff’s deputy and firefighter – sometimes ended up at the same call, but he knew how to focus on whichever role he was in at each incident.
Marthaler knew he wanted to be a firefighter when he was a boy.
“As a kid, I was always impressed with local fire departments,” he said. “I saw a fire when I was 6 at our neighbor’s house. When they put it out, I thought ‘boy, if I could do that!’”
And he did. For 43 years.
“I don’t know where the time went to tell you the truth,” he said.
He thought of retiring three years ago, so he had an even 20 years at the old fire station and 20 years at the new fire station.
“Somehow three years went by,” he admits.
Throughout his years with the fire department, Marthaler was a captain and one of the lead members on the fire education program. He made many trips to elementary schools and gave tours of the fire hall, showing equipment to kids in the area.
He also works full time in the City of St. Joseph public works department.
Torborg was active with medical training and serving in various leadership roles, including captain, assistant chief and fire chief during his three decades of service.
“Early on, it was a career goal to do something like this, to serve the community,” Torborg said. “It’s something I felt I needed to do.”
Like Marthaler, his full-time job is working for the City of St. Joseph public works department.
His daughter was born his first year with the fire department. She is now in her 30s.
“Looking back, it went by quickly,” he said.
When asked, without hesitation all three men said helping people was what they appreciated most about the job.
“It’s rewarding knowing you’ve made a difference,” Simon said. “Even though you’re often called upon on people’s worst days, hopefully you’ve made a positive impact.”
Camaraderie also was a shared reward mentioned by all three.
“This is a good group of guys and gals that work together well as a team,” Torborg said.
Originally called Hook and Ladder Co. 1, the St. Joseph Volunteer Fire Department has been providing fire protection services since 1855. In 1892, The Hook and Ladder Co. 1 was formally changed to the St. Joseph Fire Department. Today, the department provides services to the City of St. Joseph, St. Joseph Township and the southern portion of St. Wendel Township.
In 2020, the department responded to 508 calls ranging from medical attention to car accidents to brush and structural fires, said Fire Chief Jeff Taufen, who has been with the department since 1996.
With the retirement of Simon, Marthaler and Torborg, the department is looking for new firefighters.
Taufen said some requirements of the job limit applications. For one, applicants need to live within a seven-minute drive of the fire station.
“Everyone is always on call and has to live close enough to make it,” he said. “Everyone shows up if they can. On one call maybe only three will go out on the truck, but the next call we could need 20 people. Every call is different.”
Expectations are that firefighters will go out on a minimum of 20-percent of the calls each year.
Another potential challenge is if people work nights. Firefighters are required to complete 20 hours of training per year. These are completed usually on the second and last Tuesday nights of the month.
“This can be tough for someone working nights because they can’t make those drill hours,” Taufen said. “But maybe they are available during the day for calls.”
All three retirees noted being a firefighter is a commitment.
“You gotta be responsible and dedicated. It’s a lot of training and a lot of work,” Marthaler said. “And it’s demanding and hard on the family. We go 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday. If we get the call, we have to go.”
Torborg said it was worth it though.
“It’s been a ride, but it’s time,” he said. “I’m not so anxious to run into a burning building anymore.”
For those interested in becoming a firefighter, applications are available on the City of St. Joseph website.
Questions about being a part of the St. Joseph Fire Department can be directed to Fire Chief Jeff Taufen at email@example.com
“It ends up being another family,” Taufen said.