Throughout his 20 years with the the Cortland Fire Department, Dave Jensen has seen the department as a pillar of support to the community, through good times and bad.
“We’re a Band-Aid on a number of different systems in our community that may not be working to their best level,” he said. “We can’t fix every problem in our society at our level so there are things we do to hopefully tide people over.”
Jensen, the department’s training officer, will retire March 30, almost exactly two decades since he first joined. Jensen, 51, said that he developed a hip injury though years of wear and tear working in the department and previous work as a nurse before that. He may require a hip replacement.
“I’m at a point in my career where, fortunately, the fire and police retirement system is 20 years,” he said. “It’s time for me to move aside and let younger people take up the job.”
He also made a promise to his wife, Kerri, that he would retire after 20 years of service to give her peace of mind.
Jensen plans to work as a nurse, a career he had before firefighting, at Cayuga Medical Center, where he’ll teach CPR and advanced life-saving skills to medical staff. Additionally, he’ll spend more time with his wife and four children, Jacob, Laynie, Ethan and Emery.
Jensen’s professional career began as a nurse in 1993 on Long Island when he joined Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center — now Long Island Community Hospital — after receiving his nursing certification. After meeting his wife and marrying, the two moved upstate and Jensen began working at what was then Cortland Regional Medical Center’s intensive care unit in 1996. He would go on to work in nursing positions in Norwich and again on Long Island before going through firefighter training and joining the Cortland Fire Department in March 2000.
“I’ve had a couple of CPR calls where I’ve been able to get a pulse back and have someone return to their normal life, which is very rewarding,” he said. “And then you have some calls where the person doesn’t survive.”
Through it all, though, Jensen has set an example for how to interact with the community and other firefighters, his boss said.
“Dave has always been one to take the next step,” said Fire Chief Wayne Friedman. “He’s always willing to help people, from shoveling an elderly patient’s sidewalk to make sure that training was taken care of.”
As a training officer, Jensen also taught residents about protecting themselves from fires by making sure their homes had working smoke detectors, Friedman said. “He made sure that the safety of the residents was paramount.”
Jensen supported his co-workers, too, said Capt. Colleen Price.
“He’s the type of person who’ll hold somebody’s hands as long as they need,” she said. “If someone drops their keys in a grate, he’ll figure out how to get them out to make them have a better day.”
Price’s friendship with Jensen goes back to their time at Smithtown High School East in Saint James and continued as they worked at the Cortland hospital before joining the fire department.
Jensen said he’ll miss the job; it can be an adrenaline rush, but he won’t be completely removed from it. He plans to visit from time to time to have coffee and catch up with firefighters.
“It has been a good career,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of having a positive impact on citizens. I’ve been able to help people. I’ve been able to mentor a new generation of firefighters.”