His first firefighting gig didn’t take Jeff Corey far from home.
The 1970 Canyon Del Oro High School graduate reported for work at the Rural Metro station at Ina and Oracle roads, where a Brake Max stands today.
Corey and his comrades drove old tanker trucks then, hunks of steel dating to the late 1940s. After battling blazes, they draped their hoses over the stationhouse roof to dry under the desert sun.
Fast-forwarding his career to last Wednesday, Corey capped off a 35-year stint with the Tucson Fire Department in style, at a retirement luncheon that brought out dozens of current and former colleagues to bid him farewell.
During much of his tenure at Tucson Fire — about 28 years — Corey was an investigator who sifted through charred remains of buildings and houses to determine what caused the blazes that brought them down. His investigative skills won him respect from departments the world over.
“I can’t replace him,” Deputy Chief Pat Quinn said last week. “When people like Jeff leave, you just take the hit.”
After the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Corey loaned his expertise to the investigation.
“It was the call of all calls,” Corey said last Wednesday as he shook a well-wisher’s hand. “But, 9/11 made Oklahoma City go away.”
The best part of his years on the job, Corey said, involved comparing notes with other fire investigators from other departments. Perhaps those all-important bull sessions — the experts teaching the experts —led Corey to assume key leadership posts in various firefighting organizations, including a stint as the president of the Arizona Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators.
“I always sort of worried about him,” said daughter Alesha Nicole Corey.
She worried about him traipsing through the often-unsteady remains of burned buildings. Even on the day of his retirement party, her dad answered a call at 5:30 that morning.
But, daughter never doubted how much dad loved the job.
And, from the show of cards and plaques at his retirement luncheon last week, Corey had developed a loyal following within the Tucson Fire Department.
Chief Dan Newburn worked with Corey for 34 years.
“He’s been to so many fires,” Newburn said. “People ask for him. I loan him out from time to time.”
His top investigator taught at the national level, the chief said. Newburn added that he expected Corey to remain somewhat involved in the profession for several years to come.
After taking some time off, Corey plans to become a part-time fire investigator for the insurance industry.
“You see, there were always two opinions in a fire investigation,” he explained. “There was mine, and there was the insurance company’s.”
Some departments in the state are too small to even offer their own services to investigate fires. So, Corey likely will hit the road in the future to help them out.
But, perhaps he’ll heed some of the words of advice people left for him in his retirement cards. More than a few had urged him “to go fishing” with his newfound freedom.
And, Corey will have several mementos to remember his time with the department, including one honorarium mounted atop a glob of melted aluminum.
“Aluminum melts at 1,200 degrees,” Deputy Chief Quinn noted. “See, fire cause investigators know all this scientific stuff.”
Jeff Corey probably knows more than most.