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Mack hangs up the keys to the fire truck

GF fireman J.R. Mack retired Saturday after 45 years serving the city of Grand Forks.

J.R. Mack, a one-time motorcycle cop who traded uniforms to become a firetruck driver, retired Saturday, capping a 45-year career with the city of Grand Forks.

"Let's face it, he served the city for damn near half a century," said Battalion Chief Rod Hadland of the Grand Forks Fire Department. "It's quite an honor, I think, for all of us to have worked with him."

Mack, 67, attended high school in East Grand Forks, and in 1965, he joined the Police Department across the river. He started out patrolling Grand Forks on a motorcycle.

Compared with sitting in a squad car, Mack said, riding his police-issued Harley-Davidson made it easier for him as an officer to interact with the public.

"You're outside among the people," he said. "Kids love motorcycles, so you're always waving at them."

After seven years as an officer, Mack was promoted to sergeant. He filled that role for three years but missed the street-level work of an officer.

He decided to try out firefighting for a year. The excitement of the job drew him in, and he ended up spending 35 years putting out fires.

"We fought some big ones and some cold ones," he said.

Mack recalled battling the February 1979 blaze that destroyed the Gotzian Block apartment on South Third Street in downtown when the temperature was 30 below zero.

When firefighters went to roll up the hoses and put them back on the trucks, Mack said, they couldn't because the water inside had frozen. "We had to call the street department to bring out the flatbed," he said.

One particular rescue stood out in Mack's memory. In the late '70s, a man was launching his boat on the Red River when the vehicle towing the boat rolled into the water. In the vehicle was the man's 3-year-old son.

"Needless to say, there was a lot of panic around there when we arrived," he said.

The boy was in the water for about 45 minutes. When rescue workers finally reached him, his prospects seemed bleak. "He was the color of a pair of blue jeans," Mack said.

But fortunately, the boy survived and suffered no brain damage. When he turned 18, he came to the fire station to thank Mack and the other firefighters who saved his life.

"That's the sort of thing that makes you feel good," said Mack, a husband, father and grandfather.

With the fire department, Mack held the positions of hydrant man, relief driver and driver.

As someone who's driven a firetruck through the streets of Grand Forks on an emergency call, Mack had a message for motorists.

"You can put this in large print for the drivers," he said. "Please pull over to the right and stop when an emergency vehicle is approaching."

Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to