Ever since Dave Larberg’s forebears arrived in Auburn in the early 1900s, his family has served the public.
For decades, it owned and operated a grocery store at the present site of Olympic Sport and Spine on East Main Street. His mother, his grandmother and his aunt were all Miss Auburns.
What could be more natural, then that this Auburn boy would “choose a career that allowed me to serve those in my hometown community.”
And so he did, as a firefighter and chief officer for nearly 38 years — most of that span with the old Auburn Fire Department, today the Valley Regional Fire Authority (VRFA).
On Thursday, April 28, Larberg called it a career.
“I have enjoyed the work, the people, and giving back to the community where I grew up. I have learned that prioritizing a good life-work balance is the key to longevity in the fire service,” said Larberg.
Larberg attended North Auburn Elementary School (today Dick Scobee), Cascade Junior High (now Cascade Middle School), and graduated from Auburn High School in 1980. He graduated from Central Washington University in 1984.
Eager to apply his community health degree in an athletic team setting, Larberg discovered the fire service offered him two things: the physical challenge he was looking for, and the rewards that follow from helping others.
He began volunteering for King County Fire District 44 — now Mountain View Fire and Rescue — in 1984, and within two years, the district hired him as a full-time firefighter. In 1989, he joined the Auburn Fire Department.
As he moved up the ranks, Larberg blazed a trail of accomplishments. He furthered his education with an Associate of Arts degree in Fire Command and Administration, then completed the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and became a commissioned fire investigator in 1995. He was promoted to captain in 2001 and worked on a joint labor-management initiative to form the first Wellness-Fitness program for the department.
Larberg continued as a wellness-fitness coordinator for 11 years, helping the program evolve from a solely physical fitness focus to a more holistic view, which today includes emotional and mental health components.
Larberg was a captain in the Training and Safety Division and as a Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee employer representative. He also took on the role of the pre-incident plans manager for the department. Larberg was promoted to suppression battalion chief from 2012 to 2014, and then moved to the battalion chief in charge of planning and logistics, where he worked for four years.
In 2019, Larberg was promoted to deputy chief over technical services, overseeing the fire marshal’s office, support services, planning and logistics, public information and education, and emergency management.
In this role, he said he feels he met one of the most rewarding challenges of his career: helping the VRFA achieve status as an accredited emergency service agency.
“It was an arduous process involving many of our staff and representatives from the International Commission on Fire Accreditation. It was a total team effort. I am very proud of our department for … this international achievement. It is a testament to the quality of our organization and the dedicated people who work here,“ said Larberg.
In addition to his work commitments, Dave donated many hours to his community. He chaired the American Cancer Society Relay for Life efforts for the department for 18 years, chaired the department Adopt-a-Highway team, assisted with the Toys for Kids program, the Nick of Time Foundation, and the Burn Foundation. He helped raise funds by participating in the MS Ride and served four years as a board member and vice president of the White River Valley Museum.
Given all that, it is not surprising Larberg garnered many awards. He was awarded Firefighter of the Year in 1995 and was twice named Fire Officer of the Year (2007 and 2011). He received three Meritorious Unit Citations and was a three-time medalist in the Northwest Police and Fire Games.
“Dave has continually set the bar for the most impactful leadership trait: to lead by example,” said Fire Chief Brad Thompson. “He would never ask anyone to do something he is unwilling to do himself. Generations of firefighters have benefited from Dave’s efforts to propel the VRFA forward. There is no way to adequately express how influential he was in shaping the VRFA in the past, present, and future. We will truly miss Dave, but his influence will remain. We wish him the very best.”
Larberg’s advice to those following in his footsteps: “Be kind, be humble, and strive to maintain positive relationships.”