Rick Root's first fire run as a volunteer firefighter caused him to consider extinguishing his career before it had barely started.

In August 1978, Root joined other firefighters in responding to a barn fire on Beatty Road.

As they battled the blaze, one side of the barn fell on Root and two other firefighters.

"My fellow firefighters had to cut me out and take me to the hospital," Root said as he reminisced recently at the Jackson Township Division of Fire's Station 203.

"I had a fracture of the second lumbar vertebrae. I was lucky I wasn't paralyzed," he said. "My first fire. I had about two and a half months of laying around and recovering. I had time to think. I wondered whether this really was the career I wanted to have."

It was a trial by fire, but it didn't deter Root from following the path of a first responder.

"I guess it was like what they say about falling off a horse," he said. "You have to get up and get back on that horse. I was a little nervous at first, but I got right back into it."

Forty years after starting as a volunteer with Jackson Township's fire department, Root will be retiring on April 8.

He wears Badge 1 as the longest-serving firefighter currently on staff.

"I love being a firefighter," he said. "I love the feeling of knowing you're doing something to help others. You might be helping them during one of the worst times they've ever faced, if their house is on fire or they've been in an accident."

As a child, Root said he dreamed of being a fighter pilot.

When he was 20, in 1977, he lived in a duplex on Frank Road.

"My neighbor was a firefighter with Franklin Township," Root said. "He would tell me stories about what being a firefighter was all about.

"The stories he would tell about how much it meant to him to be of service to others, that really appealed to me. Plus, it sounded like it was an exciting job to have," he said.

So he applied to be a volunteer firefighter with Jackson Township, which at the time had both full-time and volunteer personnel.

After four years, he was hired as a part-time firefighter and advanced to full-time status on April 8, 1988.

Root will retire on his 30th anniversary as a full-time firefighter.

"That was kind of how I decided I wanted it," he said. "When I reached 25 years, I thought it would give it at least another couple of years and see if I continued to enjoy it. That stretched out to another five years."

It's time to retire, Root said, but that doesn't mean he's eager to stop.

"I'll miss it; that's for sure," he said. "I'll miss the satisfaction you get from doing something for your community. I'll especially miss the other firefighters. I have two families. My family at home and the one at the fire station.

"I work with the best group of men and women you can find," Root said.

"We train together. We live together one out of every three days. We're there to support each other and to swap stories and laugh together. I'll miss the camaraderie," he said.

Some of the best stories are shared by Root himself, said Shawn Quincel, the department's deputy chief.

"I've always loved sitting with Rick and listening to his stories," Quincel said. "He's served as a mentor to so many of our firefighters, including me. It's the general knowledge he has about firefighting that he passes along to others.

"Rick's just one of the kindest, most dedicated employees we have in our department," he said. "He's been a good example for our younger firefighters."

While the mission of firefighting hasn't changed over four decades, the tools of the trade have, Root said.

"The equipment we have now helps us fight fires more effectively and efficiently and makes it safer for us," he said.

Fires have become more dangerous to battle, as the synthetic materials used for construction and furnishings can mean more toxic smoke and fires that burn faster, Root said.

Now that he's retiring from his home away from home, Root said his focus will be on his family residence in Grove City.

"I live in an old home that was built in the 1890s, and I've got a whole list of repairs and upkeep I need to do," he said. "Now I'll have the time to concentrate on that. So I'll be retired, but I'll be busy."

He said he plans to visit his second home, the fire station, from time to time.

"I'll miss coming here every three days, but I know I'll be able to stop by occasionally, have a cup of coffee and catch up with everybody," Root said.

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