For some, finding that niche to devote time and effort every day can be difficult: discovering something you love to do and want to dedicate your time to. For others, it’s simple. For Jerry Nurnberg, it was simple.
Jerry joined the Creston Volunteer Fire Department 45 years ago, and recently retired from his station.
Jerry, who is originally from Ellston, graduated from high school in Mount Ayr in 1965. He attended business school in Omaha, Nebraska, then joined the Navy during the time of the Vietnam War.
While in the military from 1966 to 1970, Jerry spent several years in the Philippines on land and did two cruises on an aircraft carrier on the USS Coral Sea. He was a communications yeoman, CYN3.
“When I was in the Philippines, we were then at the naval communication station in San Miguel, and that was the largest communication station in the world at that time because of the war,” Jerry said. “We relayed messages from Vietnam from all of the Westpac fleet, all over the world.”
Jerry got married while in the service and after his service was over, he and his wife, Merry, came to live in Creston, where they’ve been ever since.
“Very shortly after, I was hired on here (at Farm and Home), and they haven’t figured out how to get rid of me,” Jerry said.
Jerry joined Creston Fire Department in 1972 as a volunteer, several years after his brother, Roger, became involved.
“It was probably because of Roger more than anything,” Jerry said. “I became an officer for the first time, I think, the second year I was on, in 1974, and been one (an officer) ever since in one capacity or another.”
In 1978, Carl Gill, the volunteer secretary and treasurer, passed away suddenly. Jerry immediately took on Gill’s responsibilities.
While on the department, Jerry responded to several memorable events, such as fires at the local lumberyard, Creston Community Theater and VFW restaurant and bar in an old Coca-Cola plant building, and an accident several miles west of Creston when three young adults died.
Jerry also said he remembers a train wreck in the late 1980s.
“This was a train where the engineer come into town too fast and he rear ended another train,” Jerry said.
For the next several days, he and former Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Baker were first response while the regular firefighters helped with the hazardous material incident.
“You give hundreds of hours to a community every year,” Jerry said.
One thing Jerry said was different than it used to be was the response to public service calls. When Jerry first came to Creston, there were two ambulance services run privately. One was run by Spencer Sandeman.
“The hospital decided to get in the emergency response business because they didn’t do any of that. And they bought Spencer Sandeman’s two ambulances. I think one of them was a Cadillac, looked a little bit like a hearse. It probably was a converted hearse. The other one was a Ford van he converted and made an ambulance out of himself,” Jerry said.
At the time, the hospital hired several EMTs to work the day shift, but asked the volunteer firefighters to cover from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. They agreed, with anyone who was not willing to certify becoming drivers.
The volunteers worked on an on-call basis, responding when the tones dropped. They made medical runs and even transported patients to larger hospitals.
“That was even the first class in Creston of EMTs,” Jerry said.
In 1995, Jerry became a part-time firefighter, a position he maintained until 2008. In 1999, the secretary and treasurer position split, so Jerry was still treasurer, but Lisa Shawler took the secretary position.
“It’s a young man’s job, and as you get older, the old knees start aching and you get to where you don’t want to climb ladders with slippery boots,” Jerry said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, because I loved the job, and I still do.
“I would guess it’s probably, you know, responding to incidents. It’s the adrenaline rush, but you know, also, that’s when you’re really doing something for somebody. You’re really doing something for the community.”
Jerry backed away some from the amount of on-scene time in order to spend more time with his family: wife, Merry, and three sons, Eric, who is now a battalion chief for Iowa City Fire, Todd and Tony, who volunteered with Creston Fire Department for several years when he was younger.
After serving under five chiefs — Ray Shrimpton, Lowell Willets, Melford Johnson, Roger Nurnberg and Todd Jackson — Jerry had one more thing to say:
“One thing I would probably like to say is thank you, No. 1, to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for making me able to do that,” Jerry said, “and to my family and to the Mostek family at Farm and Home, because Bob Mostek was my boss all through the years, and he would let me respond. Without that privilege, you can’t do it.”