After nearly four decades of service with the Violet Township Fire Department, Lt. Dave Belcher recently retired with one last honor.
Belcher, 55, retired May 3 after 38 years as a firefighter, the past 36 or so with Violet Township..
Although he is stepping away from his daily role as a firefighter -- which during the past 10 years consisted of overseeing fire-prevention and safety-inspection programs for the department -- he will continue to be involved in public safety.
Belcher said he would train firefighters for the Ohio Fire Academy and the Ohio Society of Fire Service Instructors.
It is that dedication to firefighting and public service, which started at 14 years of age when he joined a local Explorer club to learn more about police and fire work, that earned Belcher recognition as the 2019 Larry Parlett Distinguished County Fire Service Award.
Belcher received the honor after being nominated by his superiors, Violet Chief Mike Little and Assistant Chief Jim Paxton.
It was awarded by Box 15 Columbus, an organization that provides rehydration, nutrition and other rehabilitative assistance to firefighters and safety forces at fire scenes and emergency situations throughout central Ohio.
The award is named in honor of the late Larry Parlett, a longtime president of Box 15.
"The award was like a capstone on a very long and valued career Dave had with our organization," Paxton said. "Dave helped build this place from a small, volunteer department to a full-time organization.
"From the very early stages of his career, Dave was instrumental in our firefighter training. He built a very detailed inspection process for us."
In his nomination, Little and Paxton wrote that Belcher was one of the first full-time members of the fire department as it transitioned from an all-volunteer to full-time fire department in January 1986.
They noted he worked with fire officials throughout the state, as well as state legislators, to shape fire codes and called him the "epitome of a public servant."
"Lt. Belcher's knowledge, expertise and leadership has not only benefited VTFD, but the central Ohio fire community as well," his nomination stated. "He has been an Ohio Fire Academy instructor for over 20 years.
"At the academy he has taught, and continues to teach, numerous classes to include fire attack, search and rescue, auto extrication, LP fire attack, pump operations and certified fire inspector. He has been instrumental in suggesting and implementing changes to the curriculum at the OFA."
Belcher called the award "very humbling" and said it's another highlight to a career on which he looks back with numerous fond memories.
He said he got into firefighting after joining the Explorer club while a freshman at then Pickerington High School. In addition to learning about public safety, he discovered the fraternal bonds built by servicemen and woman who dedicate their lives to protecting others, and who spend hours working alongside each other, often in life-threatening situations.
"Not to be too cliche, but the 'brotherhood' of that," Belcher said. "It's like a second family.
"We've dealt with everything from births to deaths to tragedies. If somebody calls and needs something, you know there are guys out there cutting your grass or whatever, taking your wife to the hospital because you're lying there or something."
After graduating from PHS in 1981, Belcher worked roughly 18 months with the Perry Township Fire Department, which at the time served Dublin.
He then came to VTFD, where he worked on a volunteer basis before becoming full time in January 1986.
Belcher noted that in his first three years, he worked with four other firemen on nine-hour shifts, Monday through Friday.
In addition to covering the Pickerington and Violet Township area, the crews worked rigorously to cover neighboring communities that had no fire service, or were limited to volunteers.
It forced him and his peers to work well beyond their nine-hour shifts, but also brought them closer together and honed their all-around skills.
"We enhanced our experiences by gaining the experience, making those runs," he said. "(Former) Chief (Kenn) Taylor wanted us on the road, doing what we were trained to do.
"If that meant serving a neighboring community, that was what the philosophy was. We could help out, but we could also gain valuable experience."
In the last decade of his tenure, Belcher transitioned from fighting fires to training firefighters, data collection and storage and creating fire- inspection guidelines and processes for local buildings.
The work helped ensure Violet officials knew the configurations and challenges of those buildings prior to calls for service, and helped educate members of the community as to how to keep their properties safer.
Belcher said the training and inspection role was something he enjoyed.
"My area where I gravitated to was always training," he said. "I think it was always to try to make sure I was up on the current trends in technology and I thought that was the best way to make my skills the best so I was able to perform at the top level."
In addition to lifelong bonds with coworkers and firefighters from throughout the region, Belcher said he's formed a number of special relationships with people he's served through his job. But he downplayed that to a degree, noting that every Violet Township firefighter has made similar connections.
He said working in the community has been a pleasure, in part because of those relationships, but also because of the support he and the fire department has received from community members, the Violet Township trustees, Pickerington Schools officials and others with whom he has interacted.
He said recent changes in the state's retirement system helped guide his decision to step away from the job, but that he'll continue to help train firefighters from central Ohio and beyond.
He was thankful for the Box 15 recognition.
"Certainly it was a welcome surprise," Belcher said. "I think a lot of that group and it was very welcome, very humbling. It's a real capstone.
"I'm so very honored by it all, humbled by it all. It's been more than a good ride."