CUYAHOGA FALLS — It was about 30 years ago, but Roger Beck still remembers the bloodstained jacket and the look on the father's face.
Beck, who recently retired as a firefighter and paramedic for the city, went out on the call after a young man in his late teens decided to end his life.
"We couldn't save him," said Beck.
What particularly sealed the call into Beck's memory was when the young man's father came to the fire station the next day to retrieve the jacket his son had been wearing.
"When I handed him the jacket, just the look on his face, from the loss of his boy. It was terrible," said Beck. "It struck you all the way down to the bone."
Beck, who lives in Tallmadge with Sherri, his wife of 39 years, was in his 30s at the time, but had not been on the job for more than two or three years. April 30 was the 64-year-old Beck's last day when he retired after 32 years and two weeks.
"A real good guy," said Fire Chief Paul Moledor. "I'm sorry to lose him, but he put his years in ... Roger's been a good friend for a long time. We grew up in the fire service together."
Before joining the department on April 16, 1986, Beck spent a decade as a lab technician, working for Goodyear and DiversiTech General, Inc., General Tire's chemical division. Not making a lot of money and starting a family, Beck decided to change careers and chose the one he would spend three-plus decades in.
"I knew the job would be exciting and I knew I would like the job and I also knew the job would take care of my family and myself later on down the road," said Beck on his last day at work. "I loved the excitement. I loved helping people. My past jobs were in the plants, with machines and so forth, and I knew this job, I'd be out there having human contact and making a difference."
So many calls,
so many memories
During a house fire in about 2000, Beck recalls experiencing the dangers of fighting a fire indoors, where it is typically dark and smoky. He was on the hose nozzle, only discovering too late that there was staircase without a railing.
"I went tumbling down the stairs," he said. “I lost my helmet. And then of all things, I tumbled into the room where the fire started."
Beck was able to retrieve his helmet and make his way back up the stairs, where he rejoined the hose team.
"I didn't get hurt. I was lucky," he said.
It was just an example of how the unexpected can suddenly happen. Another was during a house fire in the late 1990s when a probable equipment malfunction forced Beck to make a hasty, approximately 20-second, one-man retreat outside.
"I was getting close to a bedroom when all of a sudden it stopped. I had no air," he said. "I just turned around and followed the hose line back out of the house."
On a house fire around Christmas 1990, Beck said he saw a phenomenon that can happen in fires in buildings with balloon frames, which are outmoded because they allow fires to quickly spread, but can still be found in structures built up to the 1940s.
"Myself and another firefighter were conducting a search on the third floor when we heard this strange swooshing sound," he said. "What I saw I will never forget. The fire rose out of the wall on our left and slowly traveled over our heads and exited into the wall on the right side. Very cool."
Some calls have mixed results. Like the time about eight years ago when an older man in Silver Lake climbed a tree with an electric saw, but cut into the wrong limb.
"He cut all the way across his leg," said Beck.
An artery was cut and pressure had to be put on it the whole way to Akron City Hospital.
"Unfortunately, I think that he did lose the leg, but if we hadn't held that pressure, he wouldn't have made it,"said Beck.
And of course, as a paramedic Beck has been among those on the front lines of the opioid crisis by responding to overdoses.
"It's lightened up a little bit for whatever reason, but last year, we had a lot of them," said Beck. "It was almost a daily thing for this department."
A low point, he recalled, was a double overdose at one home.
"We were in the front room [where a man overdosed] and then we walked into a bedroom and there's another gentleman laying there, same situation," he said.
An "EMS call " to Akron that Beck recently went on was happier, he said.
"Akron Children's Hospital recognized the effort of our crew from Fire Station 4 for the outstanding treatment given to a young lady with a head injury, contributing to her positive recovery," he said.
'His time to retire'
Beck said he has some plans for his retirement.
"I'm going to work on the house, which I've neglected for awhile," he said with a laugh.
He and his wife also plan to do some traveling, a couple of trips this year, probably out west, and a trip to Europe in 2019.
Moledor said Beck is a "real quality individual."
"He will be missed," he said. "But it's his time to retire and relax and he's put in a good day's work, as we say."
As for the department Beck's leaving, he said he hopes it continues as it has.
"I just enjoyed my time here immensely," he said. "It's actually been a little stressful leaving because I've loved it here for so long. I just hope the department stays proactive and not reactive and stays ahead of the curve. It's better for everybody. Better for the city, better for the employees, better for the citizens."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.