'Scrappy' Says Goodbye

Firefighters roast assistant chief into retirement


Asked to describe the party held last Tuesday for retiring Payson Assistant Fire Chief Donald Rose, a 27-year PFD veteran, department engineer Gary Lamken says, "You ever see Dean Martin's celebrity roasts on TV? That's what it was like. It was hilarious."

All of Rose's fire department associates agree. But not one is brave enough to quote any of the one-liners that reportedly had the 100-or-so audience members rolling in the aisles at Rose's expense.

"Well, I could quote a few," Captain Dawn Zurcher finally admits, "but you wouldn't be able to print them."

That's all right. If anyone wants to know what the evening might have been like, just drop by the fire station before Rose's official departure date, Aug. 25. Whenever Rose and more than one co-worker are occupying the same room, the good-natured verbal by-play is reminiscent of a Dean Martin roast.

For example, when Battalion Chief Tom Barker is asked, "What is this department going to be lacking in Don Rose's absence?" he answers with a one-word zinger aimed squarely at Rose's ample girth.

"Size," he cackles.

But as Don Rickles is forever noting, we only kid the ones we love. And Don Rose is clearly loved and respected by his partners in firefighting.

Captain Dawn Zurcher: "I don't want to talk about (Rose's retirement). You're going to get me crying. He brings levity to the administration side of the office. He's got this stuffed animal, a Dalmatian, and while you're busy doing your job and your mind is on six different things, he'll hurl this stuffed animal right at the back of your head. He's lobbed it at everybody. That's his favorite way to get people from behind.

"One time he accidentally hit (Chief John Ross) in the back of the head," Zurcher remembered with a laugh. "He looked like a little kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar."

But levity and a fairly reliable aim are not all Rose brought to the Payson Fire Department, Zurcher said.

"Don has this wealth of knowledge on inspections, investigations, fire fighting, the juvenile fire center program he just knows almost everything."

"And he knows a lot about the town," added Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb. I've been here a year and a half, and it's going to be several more years before I attain his level of knowledge."

Rose, who grew up in upstate New York, was so drawn to Arizona's mountains and deserts that he moved here with his wife, Sandra, and two children, Mark and Naomi, in 1970. His first job locally was a three-year stint with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish.

While earning his associate's degree in fire science at Eastern Arizona College, Rose joined the Payson Fire Department April 14, 1973. A series of promotions eventually landed him in the position of assistant fire chief on Jan. 11, 1980. He was hired full-time 20 years ago this Friday.

One year before that, Rose also became a reserve police officer for the Town of Payson, and later worked as a police officer for the Tonto Apache tribe.

During his tenure as a firefighter, Rose received seven letters of commendation, as well as a commendation of excellence from Payson Regional Medical Center in 1996.

During that time, Battalion Chief Tom Barker reveals, Rose also earned the nickname "Scrappy" for his ability to stand toe-to-toe and nose-to-nose with almost anyone, in almost any sort of confrontation, and win.

Does everybody call him Scrappy?"

"Not me," says Zurcher, back in a roasting mood. "I call him something else. But not anything you can print."

The guest of honor speaks

At first, Don Rose says he doesn't want to toot his own horn. But pressed on the question of what he brought to the Payson Fire Department, he finally offers his modest self-analysis.

"I'm a good listener," said Rose, 58. "My office door has always been open. Guys have called me in the middle of the night, and I've been there for them."

"He's always there for the individual," Babb interjected. "Always."

Explaining his career choices, Rose said that "Even as a kid, I always hung around fire departments. I used to chase fire trucks down the street on my tricycle. I wanted to either be a fireman or a cop, and I turned out to be both."

His most memorable experience in either capacity occurred a number of years ago, he said.

"I had just finished lunch and was traveling down Frontier Street when I got a call about a gentleman who was down about a half block away. I got there and saw that he'd had a heart attack. There was no pulse, no breathing. But I started CPR, and kept at it until the medics arrived.

"As it turned out, those extra three or four minutes of CPR saved the guy's life. He walked into the station one day and shook my hand. I've had several 'saves,' but he was the first to come in and shake my hand. That was something."

Although Rose swears in one breath that he's retiring to Truth or Consequences, N.M., barely a single inhalation later he's telling you that as soon as he gets there next week, he'll start training the firefighters of that state's Sierra County.

"They need a lot of help," he said. "They're about 30 years behind Arizona's fire departments. But what they lack mostly is training."

In any event, do his co-workers have any parting remarks?

"No, just parting shots," quips Babb. "Don, don't let the door hit you on the way out."

At that, Don Rose laughs as hard as everyone else.

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