The “adrenaline rush” many Emergency Medical Services – EMS experience is something Jim McCabe is familiar with working as a Volunteer Fireman in Spring Valley for 48 years. The decision to retire his gear was not an easy one and his epinephrine levels are still triggered when he hears an alarm to report to an emergency situation which Jim hears through the pager he carries as he continues to serve on the area of Spring Valley Area Ambulance crew.
For almost a half of a century, Jim’s been married to a pager, which is not a detriment to the marriage of 45 years he and his wife, Pam, share. An attitude of reaching out to care for others shines as a unifying attribute of the McCabe family. Pam’s researching and sharing her knowledge of atrial fibrillation (an irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow) at Mayo Clinic, allows this couple time to leave the pager’s call behind when traveling to seminars where Pam is presenting.
Their children Aaron and Ashley also both have dedicated their lives to the service of others in the medical profession as a family physician and emergency department nurse respectively in the Twin Cities area.
Many changes have come about in the 48 years since Jim was encouraged by a co-worker at Marchant’s Motor, Fire Chief Riley McGee, to “give it a try,” inspiring him to step into a firemen’s role on January 27, 1971.
“Supporting our community in any way I am able, is important to me.” remarks Jim who was named 2006 Citizen of the Year, attends as many high school sporting events as he is able to, and volunteers to charge of changing the mobile signs along Highways 16/63 in Spring Valley.
“When I started there were only 18 men in the department and today we have 26 firefighters. The state trainer certified us after 40 hours of training, whereas today 120 hours of study and drills are required to become a firefighter, then continuing education classes and drills are needed twice every month. It really is a commitment of time and energy for the person volunteering as well as the entire family,” comments Jim.
The equipment over the years has also drastically changed. “When I was a young fireman, we had two pumpers, a ‘62 Ford for city and a ‘68 Dodge for rural areas with a ‘65 Chevy 1500 gallon tanker,” remarks Jim. “ For internal fires, we only had two Scott air tanks and all rescue equipment was hand operated. We used come-along, Halligan bar, hand controlled hydraulic cutter and spreader, and chains and bars. Our personal gear consisted of a turn out coat, fire boots and a helmet but we did not have bunker pants.”
In the early days of his volunteer service, the firemen were notified of a fire call by a siren sounding on top of the light plant. In 1983, they each finally got pagers to carry.
Jim, accepted the role of First or Second Assistant Fire Chief for 22 of his 48 years on the force. These duties required additional training. Also, being a pumper operator had extra training hours as electronic controls were introduced and equipment became more difficult to operate.
During those 22 years as assistant fire chief, Jim worked closely with five different fire chiefs: Ivan Termaat, Nevin Stender, Chris Czapiewski, Troy Lange, and Spring Valley’s Current Fire Chief – Brian Danielson.
Small town and rural firefighters know those they are called to assist at the difficult moments of life. “It’s impossible to put into words the sadness of facing deaths in fire or accidents or when someone’s life or property is not able to be saved. Your heart just hurts,” laments Jim. “On the other hand, when your presence helps to save a life or someone’s home or property, there is a deep satisfaction you feel that the hours of drills, studying and training have brought a positive light to someone’s life. It’s times like these when you and hopefully your family appreciates the hours of sacrifice you’ve made for training, fire calls, and rescue calls.”
There are sacrifices also made by those who employ volunteer EMS and Harlan Marchant owner of Marchant Motors in Spring Valley has donated hundreds of hours to the EMS crews in the area by allowing Jim to answer calls quickly.
Although Jim McCabe continues to work at Marchant Motors in Spring Valley and serve the areas of Southern Minnesota as an EMT (he was certified on March 1, 1974), in retiring, he’d like to dedicate more time and energy to camping, biking and traveling with Pam, helping Aaron and Ashley with projects, and creating memories with his grandchildren, Elijah and Xavier.
“I am confident that as I retire, the Spring Valley Fire and Rescue Department will continue to provide outstanding service to Spring Valley and the Townships in the area. We have a team of wonderful volunteers who take their responsibility seriously, train hard, and are ready at a moment’s notice to respond to an emergency situation,” comments Jim. “I feel it’s important to encourage and inspire young men and women to train for fire rescue and ambulance, and offer their time and talents volunteering to protect and help the people in their community.”