Two life experiences that Jeff Pifer draws on in his work as a Midway Fire Rescue battalion chief are his time as a high school wrestler and his time as a video store manager.
Pifer, 48, wrestled at State College High School in State College, Pennsylvania.
Managing a fire station is similar to being a wrestling coach, Pifer explained.
“You need every individual to be the best that they can, but you have to get them to work as a team to do the best that they can,” he said.
After a year at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, Pifer went to work at a video store.
“It really gave me the ability to communicate with people, to organize, coordinate, sell (and) serve,” Pifer said, “so I think it was a good basis for what I do here now.”
Pifer fell in love with the Grand Strand while on a fishing trip to area in 1993. He went home, quit his job and less than a month later was living by the Atlantic Ocean and working on a fishing boat.
“Working on the boats, you work all day, all summer every day until 7 o’clock at night, come home and smell like fish,” Pifer said. “It’s not real conducive to having a family and being married.”
Pifer’s brother, Scott, is a firefighter in Fairfax County, Virginia, and encouraged his brother to make a change.
“He said, ‘Man you’ve got to be a firefighter. This is awesome,’” Pifer recalled.
Pifer moved to Virginia and worked in the same department as his brother for almost three years. “But this place was in my blood by then,” Pifer said. “I wanted to come back.”
Pifer joined Midway in 1997. When it came time for him to take the next step up the promotion ladder to battalion chief, he wasn’t sure he wanted it.
“It was a tough decision because I love being on an engine. I love going on calls, (and) I love being out there being hands-on and taking care of people,” Pifer said. “I really didn’t want to, but I knew I could do the job. And now I really enjoy the job.”
As a battalion chief out on a call, Pifer is the incident commander, in charge of coordinating the Midway personnel, making sure everything is being done safely and making sure there are enough people to do the job.
Pifer is also involved with hiring Midway staff so he’s very invested in his personnel.
“For me it’s helping these guys be the best they can be,” he said. “So when these guys succeed, that makes me feel good. ... Whether it’s here or they go somewhere else.”
What’s his best advice to a young firefighter?
“You need to listen more than you talk and work to prove yourself to your peers,” Pifer said. “The fire station is a brotherhood. If you’re outside of that brotherhood, than it just doesn’t click. Your peers have to respect you and you have to respect them.”
When not out on calls, Pifer said, there’s plenty to keep the firefighters busy.
Every day there’s two to four hours of training, a minimum of one hour of mandatory physical fitness, and checks on all the equipment to make sure it’s functioning properly.
“We keep our day full,” Pifer said. “Sometimes our day is very, very hectic. ... You try to plan it so you know what to expect, but you never know. Your whole day can get blown out by one call.”
Pifer said his worst experiences are any calls that involve an older couple that has no family around. The Midway guys then sometimes have to also help the one that is left without a caregiver.
“Those are, for me, the hardest ones,” he said. “They could be my parents. They could be your parents in that situation.”
Pifer lives in Hagley with his wife, Ronda, and daughter, Gracie, 10, who is a student at Burgess Elementary School in Myrtle Beach.
He loves going to the beach, swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking and catching snakes with Gracie.
Pifer’s goal is to be financially secure enough to retire in six years.
Not that he thinks he’ll be ready to retire then. “It’s been 19 years, and I love it,” Pifer said. “I love living in the community I serve. I run on my days off with my Midway Fire department T-shirt on, and I’m proud of it. ... I like that connection to the community and that I am part of the community.”
Story By Chris Sokoloski
South Strand News