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He's Spent 50+ Years in Local Fire Service

For 50 years, Joe Messmer has been a firefighter and the Edgewood Fire Department recently honored him for his service. The Edgewood city councilman noted that another local firefighter, Johnny Mueller also made it to the 50-year mark, but did not stay active. Messmer is still an active volunteer and serves as an engineer for Edgewood's department.

"I figure, if I make the trucks I ought to be able to drive them," he said, with a laugh.

Messmer is also president of Summit Fire Apparatus, a business his dad started under the name Summit Welding and Fabrication. Now the company makes fire trucks, and sends them all over the world to places like Australia, South America, Africa, and across the United States.

Messmer could sit back and take it easy, but he doesn't. 

The second youngest of five boys, Messmer was born in Covington, and moved to what is now Edgewood in the mid-1950s, attending Holy Guardian Angel parish school, which was located at the bottom of Dudley Road and 3L Highway (KY 17). When KY 17 was improved, the parish became St. Pius, and Messmer finished grade school there, then attended Covington Catholic High School. While in high school, Messmer became a volunteer firefighter/EMT when he was 16, and also started working for his dad at Summit.

"My brothers and I worked there, but we weren't paid," he said. "If the subject of payment came up, my father would say, Didn't I see you at the supper table last night? And aren't you going to one of the best schools?," he laughed. "We usually didn't bring it up again."

Messmer did not particularly enjoy school, he said, but while working he also attended Ohio College of Applied Science, now known as Cincinnati State & Technical College.

In the meantime, his father was fire chief for six years, but died at the age of 55. Later, his oldest brother became chief. All of his brothers were on the force at one time or another. In the 1990s, Southern Hills Fire Department was struggling to stay afloat, so Messmer, who was chief, met with Edgewood Mayor John Link and then-city administrator Lou Noll to talk about merging with the city.  

Southern Hills merged with the Edgewood Volunteer Fire Department in 1997.

In his other career, Messmer left Summit to go into construction, and eventually worked with Kreutzjans, the builder that created Brookwood, and he was proud that he had yet another skill to put in his resume. He met and married his wife, Linda, and then he set to work building a house - largely by himself - for them to live in. He had two children, Angela and Marc, and now he has two granddaughters, and recently built each of them a 3-in-1 crib which converts to a regular bed. Angela has a Ph.D. and lives in Boston, and Marc is a lieutenant in the fire department.

Messmer is very proud of his career in firefighting, including the 26 years he spent as chief.

"Typical volunteers are people like me," he said. "Seventy-five percent of the nation's fire force are volunteer. There is an unbelievable amount of connection and friendship; of camaraderie. When you are trained to do something, you don't think of the danger, except to stay safe; you think of how to resolve the situation."

Messmer has seen some serious fires. He cited the time that a small plane crashed into a house to the rear of the firehouse. Four people on the plane died, but no one on the ground was hurt. There was also a large residence fire across the street from Presidents Park, a conflagration started by a candle in a window. And there was the hospital fire, which was arson. Messmer said they knew who started it, but could never get firm enough evidence to convict the person.

"Then there are the near misses, but you try never to think about those," he said. "It is the job of the chief to know when to go in, and when not to go in. If you don't develop that knowledge, somebody's going to get hurt."

Messmer is proud of the award he received, and in March, he will celebrate 51 years in the fire service. He is modest, unassuming, and he likes what he is doing.

"I have heard it said that if you really enjoy what you are doing, it isn't really work," he said. "I love getting up in the morning, wondering what new challenges there will be today."

He genuinely likes where he is.

"By and large, firemen are pretty easygoing," he concluded. "I am satisfied.  I don't want for much." He thought for a minute. "It's a pretty good life!"

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor