- Associated Press - Saturday, October 4, 2014

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - The photos that line Jay Muhme’s office wall tell the story of a very accomplished, long and adrenaline-packed career.

As fire marshal, Muhme has been at some of the most famous fires and tragic accidents in Steamboat Springs.

“It’s literally been my whole life,” Muhme said. “It’s an adrenaline rush in its own way. You know times when you made a difference, and it’s sad at times when you couldn’t. It happens.”

Muhme is heading into retirement, Steamboat Today reported (https://tinyurl.com/m5hmb76 ). He said that is going to be a different life. He is going to stay in town and he plans to spend a lot more time hunting, fishing and hanging out with his four grandkids.

“It’s time to spend more time with them and use the toys we’ve acquired,” Muhme said, referring to his dirt bikes, motor homes, boats and snowmobiles. “I’ve got the toys. I now have the time.”

The Steamboat native has been involved with the Steamboat fire department since he was 16 years old. His dad, Henry, was a firefighter at the department, which at that time was all volunteer. As a kid, he would help lick and stuff the envelopes containing letters that would be sent out each year to residents soliciting donations to fund the department.

“Ever since I can remember, my dad was on the fire department,” Muhme said. “I didn’t know any different. I thought everyone had to be that.”

Muhme was hired as the department’s first paid fire marshal in 1985. He has been responsible for administering and enforcing the fire code and investigating fires, including the Good News Building explosion in 1994 that injured 18 people. Muhme recalled how trained Steamboat Ski Patrol medics came to help.

“We came together as a community really without ever training for it,” he said.

Muhme said it was amazing no one was killed, and he was able to trace the cause of the explosion to a natural gas leak that was sparked by a pilot light from a water heater. He said it took a couple of days to piece together that puzzle, a part of the job he said he liked almost as much as fighting fire.

Muhme recalled a fuel depot fire in 1987, where lightning had hit the big tank while it was being refilled. When he arrived, Muhme saw the driver of the truck walking away from the explosion.

“His whole body was smoking,” Muhme said. “It was crazy.”

The driver was burned but survived.

With so many calls throughout the years, it was tough for Muhme to recall the most memorable.

“There are some that you remember that you would love to forget,” Muhme said. “They will stick with you for the rest of our life. The rest of them, they’ve all been fun.”

Firefighter Mike Middleton has known Muhme since Middleton joined the department in 1982 and said Muhme has certain characteristics that have made him a strong leader.

“He’s been to some big incidents, and it’s hard to get him excited about it,” Middleton said. “He just gets to work.”

Together, they have been to many fires, and the most memorable were the ones during the winter when temperatures were below zero degrees and firefighters struggled to keep hoses from freezing.

“We’d literally not be able to bend our arms, bend our legs because our bunker gear would be so stiff,” Middleton said. “All we could do is do our best and laugh it off.”

Technology and science has changed firefighting drastically throughout the years, Muhme said. He recalled how when he was 20 years old, he was the smallest firefighter and the only one able to get to the driver trapped inside the mangled semi-trailer on Rabbit Ears Pass. They did not have the modern extrication tools that firefighters use today.

Muhme was able to help pull out the driver, who survived the wreck, but it was not a pleasant experience.

“He screamed and screamed and screamed for two hours at the top of his lungs just terrified and hurt,” Muhme said.

Firefighters constantly train and learn in order to prepare them for what they will encounter. Throughout the years, his training has included aircraft rescue, scuba and ice diving certifications as well as swift water rescue.

“It’s been a career that was never ending in what I could learn and what I could do,” he said.

Bob Struble, Steamboat’s former fire chief who grew up with Muhme, said Muhme has had an interesting career, encompassed by a lot of changes in the industry.

“He took fire safety very seriously,” Struble said. “Jay was instrumental in getting that going early on.”

His experience will be greatly missed at Steamboat Fire Rescue.

“It’s going to be difficult, if not impossible to fill his position,” Chief Mel Stewart said. “He takes with him a wealth of historical knowledge of Steamboat Springs and the fire department. I don’t think it really has hit him that he’s going to be gone, as of next week.”

Muhme’s colleagues said he has put in his time, and they are happy he is going to spend more time doing what he feels is most important.

“Jay is very much a family man,” Struble said. “His kids and now grandkids mean the world to him.”

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