TWINSBURG — Anyone not in the know might have believed that Jack Lewis’s house was on fire April 8 as fire and police vehicles approached it with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
But they were merely taking the firefighter/paramedic home after his 24-hour shift ended at 7 a.m., his last with the Twinsburg Fire Department after 30 years.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got about a quarter mile from my house and everybody’s standing out in the front yard,” said Lewis, who arrived as a passenger in a fire truck.
The well wishers, who Lewis said were maintaining social distancing, were there to honor and congratulate him on his retirement.
“I started crying,” said Lewis.
Fire Chief Tim Morgan said this has become a tradition with the department.
“That’s something we’ve made a practice of doing for our employees that live in town or at least close to town,” he said, adding that he is not sure, but believes it started with the retirement of former Fire Chief Dan Simecek in April 1997.
Morgan, who started with the department the year after Lewis did in 1990, said Lewis has been “a good guy to have around.”
“He’s lived here in the community and that’s how he kind of got into the business and he is just a guy who you could always count on to show up and work hard,” said Morgan. “He was conscientious about what he did.”
Lewis’ life before he entered the fire service was somewhat varied. He said that immediately after graduating from Mentor High School in 1977, he served in the Navy for four years, working as a computer programmer and operator on the aircraft carrier USS America. After his discharge in 1981, he continued working with computers for a number of companies, as well as for a time as a long-haul trucker.
He and his wife Kim married in 1985 — they have twin sons — the same year they moved to Twinsburg. Five years later he started a new career, inspired in part by his father’s time as a volunteer firefighter in Seneca, Pa.
“I really wanted to work in the community that I lived in and what a better way to work there than to also serve there, serve the people of the community I worked in, lived in,” he said.
At the time, Twinsburg firefighters were still part-timers.
“We wore pagers,” said Lewis. “We were called in at any time. At the same time, I had a regular 40 hour-a-week job, so I answered calls after I was home at night and on weekends.”
That did not last too long. After the department grew, he joined the full-time roster in April 1993, about the time he advanced to paramedic, the highest level in the emergency medical service.
Lewis said a fire call he went out on around Christmas 1995 stands out in his memory. The industrial building contained paraffin for making pest “sticky traps” and it was a bad fire.
“When the paraffin went off, that was it,” he said. “The building just went down.”
He said it was also memorable just because of how busy things got as firefighters dealt with the blaze.
“We saw a record number of calls, just because of rough weather-related stuff,” he said.
One positive, said Lewis, was there were no injuries or fatalities during the fire.
“I owe that to the diligence, to the professionalism of the people who are working on the department,” he said. “We keep each other safe and watch out for each other and ourselves, too.”
Much more recently was a call, one that is an example of the “mental and emotional strain that we all go through at this time,” for a patient who had recently returned home from New York with symptoms of coronavirus and if infected, had exposed family members to the disease. In a sign of the times, Lewis said he and others who responded wore gowns, masks and gloves.
“We were all in protective stuff,” he said.
More generally, Lewis said he likes to remember “just the teamwork that we all had, the camaraderie on the fire department. Very professional group of people that I worked with, highly trained and very capable of doing anything we were asked to do.”
Morgan said Lewis’ service to the community goes even further. He has been a CPR/AED instructor and advisor to Twinsburg Fire Explorers Post 34. He is also state certified as a fire inspector, investigator, and safety educator.
“He just really tried to engage in all the different aspects of the fire service,”said Morgan.
And Lewis is not quite done. Since 1996, he has worked a second job as an emergency room paramedic at South Pointe Hospital in Warrensville Heights where, “we supplement the nursing staff.”
“I’ll probably work up there ‘til December and then I’ll be in a better position to make a decision whether I want to continue working there or not. I probably will,” he said.
In parting, Lewis said he had a message for his former colleagues at the Twinsburg Fire Department.
“A big thank you to the department for putting up with me,” he said. “A bunch of good men and women there. They’re going to carry on the good fight and at this time of the epidemic going on, I wish them all the best of luck. Stay safe, stay healthy and watch out for each other.”
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP