After 28 years battling fires and responding to emergency calls, Ken Sheffer is retiring from the York City Fire Department.
After 28 years battling fires and responding to emergency calls, Ken Sheffer is retiring from the York City Fire Department. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

Dressed in a blue York City Fire/Rescue pullover and pants, Ken Sheffer stood between ladder trucks in the apparatus bay of the Vigilant/Union fire station in York City Wednesday night and told stories of fighting fires with fellow firefighters.

There was the time Sheffer and acting chief David Michaels, then a firefighter, were first on the scene of a fire in the city and suffered burns. They were ordered to the hospital, and Michaels called his wife to tell her of the incident before she heard about it on the nightly news.

His wife went to the hospital and mistakenly went to Sheffer's room and saw the burns he suffered.

"What did you do to my husband," Michaels' wife exclaimed, Michaels recalled with a laugh.

Stories like that were plentiful. Time for Sheffer, 58, to tell stories as a firefighter was not.

The 41-year veteran of the city's fire service was to wrap up his final shift as a firefighter Thursday morning.

Long career: Sheffer joined the fire department in 1971 at age 17 as a volunteer and became a paid firefighter in 1985. He spend 28 years as a paid firefighter.

In that time, Sheffer gained a reputation as a man who knew a lot about firefighting, and he was keen to share that knowledge with younger firefighters fresh on the job, Michaels said.

"He's going to be hard to replace, the knowledge, the experience," Michaels said of Sheffer. "When you think of a firefighter, you think of Ken."

During his career, Sheffer received a number of commendations, including for his efforts to save a woman's life in 1988. The woman was trapped in a burning house and Sheffer, who also suffered burns and injuries, rescued her.

"Initially I was just hoping she was going to live," he said.

Family affair: Firefighting has a long history in Sheffer's family. His grandfather, father, uncle and brother all served with the city department. Sheffer's brother, George, retired last year.

Sheffer said he felt it was his time to retire, too, but he will remain active with the department's retiree association. He may return to volunteering again, but that will be a few years down the road.

When Sheffer went to work his last shift Wednesday night, he said he took a deep breath before opening the door to the station. For him, retirement hasn't yet sunk in.

"I think it's going to be more or less tomorrow morning and when I turn in my gear," he said.

Tiller: As the firefighters and officers chatted about their jobs, talk revolved around one of their favorite trucks to drive - a tractor-drawn ladder truck complete with a steering compartment in the back.

The group of guys joked about the burden it sometimes was to drive the rig but also of how neat it was for the person steering in the back to look down and see cars stopped for the passing truck.

"Except that the cab wasn't enclosed. You took a real blast when it was cold out there," Sheffer said. "It was great until its 13 degrees out there and you had a (fire) and you're wet and you had to get back on to drive (back to the station)."

For smaller firefighters, the drive wasn't so bad. The short windshield deflected the wind and the elements. But for taller firefighters like Sheffer, the windshield did nothing to protect them from snow and freezing rain.

York City kept that truck in front line service from the time it was bought in 1964 until the late 1990s. It was eventually sold to a collector.

As parting gift of sorts, deputy chief Greg Halpin gave Sheffer one of the 2013 calendars he made, which features a few photographs of the ladder truck.

Under a photograph of the truck on the back of the calendar, were the words: "Great fire trucks never retire."

"That seems to fit pretty well for him, too," Halpin said of Sheffer.

- Reach Greg Gross at