VERDE VILLAGE -- Jerry Doerksen has had one of those careers that made a difference for fire service and safety in the Verde Valley. He kept working at it, getting better and achieving more responsible roles and has now retired as Assistant Chief of the Verde Valley Fire District.
Friday, friends and co-workers held a retirement party for Doerksen to celebrate his friendship and leadership.
"I never thought I would have done something else. I would have done things differently, or better, and I learned a lot of stuff through that. I made mistakes. But, I always loved helping people. I loved the fire engines, working together with the camaraderie of the fire family," said Doerksen.
"We were not always successful, but we keep working at making our families and our lives better. It is a deep family to be part of and I was always proud of that fact that I was with the fire service."
Doerksen was working in construction when he was younger. He was helping out at a barbecue when he was first called to help out firefighters who were shor-handed. He has a picture taken with Camp Verde Fire in 1975. That means he has 40 years of fire service under his belt.
Doerksen worked for more than 8 years as a volunteer in Camp Verde, until he was hired full time by the Cottonwood Fire Department, where he started as an Engineer and Intermediate EMT. Then he began working up the career ladder. He became a Shift Captain when the positions were first created with Cottonwood Fire in 1984 and got his paramedic certification in 1988
Doerksen worked two years as Fire Marshal and also managed Verde Valley Ambulance Company for five years.
After 20 years working with the Cottonwood Fire Department, in 2005 he followed former Cottonwood Chief Don Eberle to become Assistant Chief with Verde Valley Fire District when Doug Longfellow retired.
Jerry had graduated from the Executive Fire Program at the National Fire Academy.
When Doerksen talks about the things he loved most about his career, he talks about training students. He had been a fire training officer with the fire company, but he also began teaching classes at Yavapai College, as an EMT instructor, teaching Fire Science 1 and 2, Engineering classes and more.
He was a training officer for a while at Cottonwood Fire, but also EMT instructor at Yavapai College and then Fire Science and the first Firefighter One and Two and Engineering classes. He was also on the training committee of the Chiefs Association.
He says, "Guys glow about what they learned and how things work together. And it's gratifying when you see them apply the training and see the efficiency on the job, or feel the frustration when they know they did not achieve that efficiency."
Doerksen was in the lead in the movement toward shared services and consolidation.
"It just makes sense to consolidate as much as possible. It is so much more efficient, so much safer and the taxpayer dollars would be so much better spent if the Verde Valley was one fire agency. Our purchasing power would be better, our training would all be the same. We would respond the same. We do a lot of that now, but not completely to that level. That is a big positive that I see from consolidating whatever we can."
Doerksen and Former Prescott Fire Chief Darrell Willis started the Yavapai County Mutual Aid in 1994.
"We evaluated and then made a list of all the apparatus and manpower across Yavapai County. We began the program in the Verde Valley, then Prescott adopted it and now it is being considered across the state, because it is so efficient and leaves your area covered so much better."
"We have kept that updated and made sure all our hoses and equipment fit together and then we would do swaps and take an engine from Verde Valley Fire to Prescott and we would bring one from Prescott to the Verde Valley to respond to calls so see what doesn't work together. Then we would say, 'we need to fix this or that.'"