Bruce Turner still listens to the fire calls coming over the radio in his Arlington home. After 35 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Falls Church Fire Department, nine of them as chief, Turner finds it hard to let go.
Turner's involvement with firefighting began when he was 5 years old and the local fire siren went off late one night.
"It was dark. When the pumper came by, I could hear it coming and ran out onto the porch to watch it," Turner remembered. "I could see where the fire was. There was a house sitting up high. That made quite an impression on me."
In his years in the department, Turner, 53, has seen a lot of changes. When he joined, at age 18, the department got about 300 calls a year. Now each year they number about 800, Turner said.
"The station used to keep a Dalmation. Baisey was the last one. They put up a little memorial stone for her in front of the station. They don't have time to look after a dog anymore," Turner said.
Turner believes his biggest contributions to the department have been in training, improving the local fire insurance rating from a seven to a three, cutting maintenance costs and implementing the "closest company" concept. Under this policy, the fire department closest to a fire responds to a call even if it's in another jurisdiction.
The retired chief has received a number of citations and awards over the years.
"I found an unconscious man in a fire and carried him down the ladder and took him to the hospital," he said.
Turner received a special commendation for this act.
In addition to his work for the department, he has been a brick layer and a softball umpire. He has always played or coached softball and still coaches a team on which two of his boys play.
He says firefighting is a demanding job. "You see a lot of misery . . . . a lot of personal property damage that just destroys people emotionally," Turner said.
Turner said that firefighters also have to battle tension.
"Can you imagine a man waking up from a dead sleep and having to run? Just having to go, go, go and knowing that what he did may mean the difference between someone's life and death. There is definitely a lot of pressure involved, and you have to stay cool, calm and collected," he said.
Turner plans to continue to work as a firefighting consultant and instructor. He automatically became a life member of the department when he completed 20 years of service.
"I go up there and play an occasional game of pinochle in the evening," he said.
"When I started out I was probably looking for excitement. After I'd been at it a while, I think I became more interested in improving the overall service and giving something back to the community," Turner said.