A career in the fire service means dedicating yourself to helping others.
Not only did Valley Regional Fire Authority Captain Dave Berg embody this ideal, his colleagues and many admirers say, he made it his passion from day one.
This month, the veteran firefighter retires, drawing his distinguished 32-year career to a close.
Chief Brent Swearingen explained what set Berg apart.
“Dave is a natural leader who has the rare ability to be confident without being arrogant, demanding without being threatening, and competent without being showy,” said Swearingen. “He leads by example without trying to draw attention to himself. Dave has put 32 years into the fire service, and is still looking for ways to innovate.”
Berg started out as a resident firefighter with Pierce County Fire District 7 in Spanaway in 1989. Three years later, the legacy Auburn Fire Department today the VRFA, hired him. In 1994, he became a firefighter-public Information and education specialist, and in 2012 the department promoted him to captain.
Early in his career, Berg set out to make a difference in kids lives, teaching fire safety and injury prevention to countless students over an 18-year span on the AFD and VRFA Public Information and Education teams. What’s more, Berg organized softball tournaments and other events to raise funds for child burn survivors, and pitched in with the annual Toys for Kids drive, providing holiday gifts for struggling families.
Known with affection as “Firefighter Dave,” said Kimberly Terhune, VRFA Public Education and Information Officer, he never failed to elicit smiles and laughter during his classroom visits.
“Watching Dave teach is truly magical,” said Terhune. “He has an innate ability to connect with children and impart knowledge that has undoubtedly saved lives. He does it all with humor and fun. The kids in his classes remember him for years afterward.”
For his outstanding community outreach efforts and top-notch job performance, Berg received the 2004 City of Auburn Employee of the Year award. Berg also consistently received nominations for both Firefighter and Fire Officer of the year.
Though much of his work was highly visible, Berg also worked behind the scenes to create and manage the department’s pre-incident plans (PIP). He was solely responsible for this program for 24 years, quietly creating hundreds of PIPs for buildings in the VRFA service area. This work greatly enhanced firefighter safety and efficiency by giving crews the chance to familiarize themselves with a building on the way to an emergency call.
“Most importantly, Dave has been a mentor to every firefighter who has had the good fortune to be assigned to him. I enjoyed every talk that I ever had with Dave and will miss his humor and good advice. We wish him a long and fruitful retirement,” said Swearingen.
While being a firefighter enabled Berg to connect with residents, co-workers will tell you that he knew his job well and was always there for them.
Indeed, he said, mentoring new firefighters was one of his most important duties.
“When you move from the role of firefighter to captain, your focus shifts from taking care of yourself to watching out for your crew and trying to mold them into their best selves. I wanted them to know I cared about them and that it was important to enjoy each day and have fun,” Berg said.