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Still taking the heat

Greenamyer not ready to hang up his boots

Spokane fire Lt. Jack Greenamyer doesn’t keep track of how many lives he’s saved or the number of burning buildings he’s gone into, but he can tell you he still gets excited about going to work after 45 years on the force.

On Monday, Greenamyer, 67, marked the anniversary of his hiring in 1965.

He’s known for being the first guy on the truck when a call goes out, and a firefighter who won’t shy away from the physical punishment that comes with charging into a burning building.

Greenamyer is the longest-serving member of the force, and he has spent the past 12 years commanding an engine crew at Station No. 3 at Indiana Avenue and Ash Street on Spokane’s North Side.

“The guys here are great firefighters and dedicated to their jobs,” he said in describing the best part of the work.

Station No. 3 is known as the busiest fire station in the state, said firefighter John Griffith, who serves under Greenamyer and is the information director for Local 29 of the firefighters union. The station gets about 3,500 calls a year.

Greenamyer probably could work at one of the city’s outlying stations, but he said he prefers the hustle of Station No. 3, where firefighters seldom get a full night’s sleep.

He lives about a mile from the station and finds the people he helps in north Spokane to be appreciative. “The people here like us when we come,” he said.

Greenamyer could have taken an early retirement at age 52, but he plans to continue working for at least two more years, if not longer.

“I don’t want to retire,” he said.

He keeps in shape by working out regularly on exercise equipment at the station house.

A graduate of Rogers High School, he is married and has four children and three stepchildren, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

He has escaped close calls, including a collapsing side wall at Tri-State Distributors in 1982 during an arson that claimed the life of Paul Heidenreich, the last Spokane firefighter to die in the line of duty, and injured eight other firefighters.

Greenamyer was also on the scene fighting two other fatal fires: the 1966 blaze at the Saad shoe store building that killed firefighter Leroy Mackey, and the 1980 fire at the Zukor Building that killed Capt. Robert Hanna.

Greenamyer said he is fortunate to never have suffered a serious injury.

He tries not to dwell on what he sees, although the infant who died unexpectedly two days before Christmas was a tough one, he said.

“The bad part of our job is we see it happen,” he said. “I suppose it’s the hardest when it’s little kids.

“It’s the job and you go home and you don’t bring the job with you.”

In 1965, the department had just converted its first aerial ladder from a hand-cranked extension to a hydraulic one, he said.

The department had probably 3,500 calls a year then, compared with nearly 30,000 a year now. Most of the increase is in medical calls.

When Greenamyer joined the force, firefighters didn’t use bottled air. They wore masks connected to charcoal filters. Today, they keep their air masks on even when mopping up.

Greenamyer has 14 months seniority on the next longest-serving member of the department, Battalion Chief Dan Brown.

Lt. Greg Borg, who also serves at Station No. 3, said Greenamyer sets the standard for younger firefighters.

“Jack is probably the most respected firefighter in the department,” Borg said. “He’ll take the nozzle and go into places. He can take the heat.”

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