Fighting fires at 90

Fighting fires at 90

11 February 2011

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USA — Dee Simpson enjoys battling fires. Always has and always will.

He doesn’t think twice about getting up in the middle of the night, strapping on his firefighting gear and blazing a trail in response to a fire call. He’s been doing it for about six decades, the last two with the Burro Flats Volunteer Fire Department.

“Oh, my goodness alive … back when I was a young man I belonged to the fire department … right after World War II,” Simpson said while trying to recall when he actually began his firefighting career. “I’ve belonged to a lot of fire departments all my life.”

Even at age 90, Simpson continues to be an active member of the Burro Flats department. That easily makes him the oldest active firefighter in Otero County and possibly in all of New Mexico.

Unfortunately, there is no database that keeps track of that information. But according to, Jack Lindsley, 99, of Lambertville, N.J., holds the title of the nation’s maybe the world’s oldest firefighter.

One thing is certain, though: Simpson is part of a select group of people who are still actively fighting fires in their ninth decade of life.

Simpson is a qualified tanker driver/operator he was a truck driver during his younger days and responds to fire by providing the water supply.

“I do everything there is to do to fight a fire,” he said.

Simpson said he joined the Burro Flats volunteer fire department two years ago, but he also tried to join
shortly after turning 70 years old.

“Back then, they had an age limit for their firefighters, so I let it go at that,” he said. “They changed leadership two or three times since then. The present fire chief said she would absolutely take me with my experience.”

Simpson doesn’t shy away from any task, regardless of his age.

“The thing of it is, I do what I need to do,” he said.

“He will get in there on the hose or the shovel,” Burro Flats fire chief Roberta Hanneman said. “He drives the truck for us and will work on them because that’s what he used to do. He will help us fight wildland fires, but not structure fires because he’s not structure-fire trained.”

Simpson explained that he has always enjoyed being part of a volunteer fire department.

“We’re helping to make a safer neighborhood,” he said. “That’s really the reason why I belong to the fire department. We’re on call at all hours of the day and night.”

Which is why he will respond to calls at any hour of the day or night without hesitation. Simpson said he also belongs to the local Emergency Medical Service, which makes it even more important for him to respond in case his expertise is needed.

Not only does Simpson respond to fires, he is a regular at Thursday night meetings and once-per-month Saturday morning training sessions.

“We maintain our equipment and stuff like that,” he said.

Although he can’t remember exactly when it happened, Simpson said the most interesting fire call occurred at a bar in Ruidoso.

“They had a fire at about 3 a.m.,” he said. “By 3:30, it was exploding. It was a lot of fun when it started. The alcohol was exploding. It was like pouring gasoline on the fire. You can imagine what took place.

“You don’t go in there when things are exploding.”

Simpson said driving the tanker en route to a call can play havoc with his nerves.

“It can be pretty nerve-wracking,” he said. “What people don’t realize is just because you have red lights and everything blinking doesn’t give you the right of way. You still have to stay within the rules of the road.”

But he said most drivers are courteous and clear a path for him when he turns on the red lights and blows the horn.

“People are real courteous when they see a fire truck coming,” he said. “Most of them will pull over and let you get on by.”

Simpson is pretty secure in knowing he is the oldest firefighter in Otero County. But as for being the oldest in New Mexico, he’s not so sure.

“I cannot say,” he said. “You can be a firefighter and be inactive, so I’m sure there are a lot of folks older than me out there.

Above all else, Simpson is known in Burro Flats as being dependable.

“He’s one of my go-to people,” Hanneman said. “I know he will be there when I need him.”

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