WORTHINGTON — Kirk Honius and Jay Jensen joined the Worthington Fire Department at the same time in 1995, so it's only fitting that they retire together this week after serving 25 years with WFD.
Jensen decided to apply for a firefighter post after prodding from then-chief Chip Peters, who knew him through work associates. His EMT training with the ambulance service was an asset in seeking the position.
Honius was drawn to WFD by the joy of public service, he shared. Already an officer with the Worthington Police Department and working with the ambulance service, Honius had learned to love serving the public.
The two men hardly knew each other when they started with WFD, but have grown close over the years. Their children grew up together, and their families vacation as a group.
"It's not just the firefighters, it's the families that have to give up time," Honius explained. While they responded to fire calls, their families would look out for each other.
Throughout their service, they have witnessed many changes to WFD, including a new fire hall, updated equipment and additional training requirements. Firefighters are always continuing their education, the men explained.
A notable experience last year illustrated why fire departments spend so much time learning and training, Jensen and Honius said.
Over two and a half decades of fighting fires, a single experience burns brightly in their memories: the 2019 Brewster grain elevator fire.
"I was standing right under the elevator," Honius recalled. "They talk about fire being an animal — you could hear the roar, almost like a train."
Jensen remembers being stationed near a fire truck with a group of other firefighters when smoldering grain exploded inside the elevator.
"We heard the blast and dove under the truck for cover," he said. In that split second, the thousands of hours he spent training throughout his career could have saved his life.
"You'd be surprised what you remember when you need it," Jensen said.
The grain elevator fire was not the only time Honius and Jensen have felt afraid throughout their years of service, they said. Firefighters face moments of real danger on occasion. They were willing to keep coming back all those years, though, because they love serving their community.
"We appreciate the time we've had — it went quick," Jensen said.
While there is no official retirement ceremony, it is WFD tradition that retiring firefighters buy dinner for the rest of the department. Usually that means grilling or cooking at the station, but COVID concerns have limited group cooking at WFD. Following training Tuesday night, Jensen and Honius treated their fellow firefighters to pizza instead.
After Tuesday's sendoff, the retirees left for vacation together with their families, a fitting end to a quarter-century of working together.