When James Medsger started his job with Dormont Borough in 1977, he was the least-experienced person on the fire department’s staff.
“I didn’t know hardly anything at all,” he said. “I came in as a dispatcher and got on-the-job training. I didn’t even know how to drive a stick shift.”
That changed, of course.
On Sunday, when Medsger, 62, retired after 36 years on the job, Dormont VFD members said he is one of the borough’s most knowledgeable staff members, and will be hard to replace.
A send-off ceremony was held at the fire station Sunday, to thank Medsger for his service to both the police and fire departments.
As a gift, the fire department’s volunteer association bought Medsger tickets to an upcoming Eric Clapton concert—a nod to what Dormont VFD members called Medsger’s “quiet obsession with rock ‘n roll,” and his former days as a long-haired bass player.
Medsger later said of all things about the job, it was the people he would miss the most—those he worked with, and those he helped on the job.
“There’s no question about it,” he said. “After doing this job for so many years, you can’t just walk away. This is a fantastic group of people.”
Medsger began his career with the F.B.I. in Washington, D.C. and said he liked the job, but that after a few years he started looking for something that would bring him closer to his hometown of White Oak.
He had experience in police communications, but not with fire equipment when he was hired as a dispatcher for Dormont’s police and fire departments in 1977.
The job changed a lot over the years, he said. Training requirements became more intense, and the fire department went from responding to less than 100 calls a year to answering more than 300.
Brian Taylor, a current Dormont VFD member, said with the amount of training required for fire department members today, it wouldn’t be possible to pick up the job the way Medsger did.
“I can’t imagine never having been behind the wheel of a fire truck, and being told ‘It’s okay. We’ll train you,’” Taylor said. “It’s a different time. You couldn’t do that anymore.”
Medsger is retiring as the Fire Apparatus Operator and Desk Officer for the borough, and Taylor and others said he likely has more knowledge now of the borough and the emergency departments than anyone else.
“He knows Dormont probably better than some who’ve lived here all their lives,” said Dormont VFD member Mike Schoenefeldt. “He’s a great man and an asset here, and he’ll definitely be greatly missed.”
Although most fire department members are volunteers, Medsger’s position is a full-time, salaried position that the borough is now looking to fill.
Applications for the position will be accepted through March 8, and information is available on the Dormont Borough website.