Fire captain turns 80, celebrates 65 years of service

Ralph Neiderhiser began his career as a volunteer with his father when he was 16

By Joan Mcdonough
The Island Packet

BEAUFORT, S.C. — Burton Fire District Capt. Ralph Neiderhiser celebrated his 80th birthday Tuesday. Sixty five of those years have been spent in fire service.

“If you do what you enjoy, it ain’t (like) going to work,” he said Wednesday.

Neiderhiser began his career as a volunteer with his father in Pennsylvania when he was 16, he said. He moved to the Lowcountry in 1985, started as a firefighter on Hilton Head Island and hasn’t left the area or the fire service since, he said. Neiderhiser joined Burton Fire District in 2005, according to the release.

He now works as the maintenance officer for the Burton Fire District, repairing and keeping in shape all of the department’s vehicles and fire apparatus, according to a fire district news release. Though he no longer fights fires, he is essential to the team and continues to train in new technologies related to the equipment for which he’s responsible, fire district officials said.

“I cannot say enough about Ralph and what he brings to the Burton Fire District,” Burton Fire Chief Harry Rountree said. “Our department responded to 3,252 emergencies last year and is on track to exceed that in 2017. That is a lot of wear and tear on our equipment and we certainly couldn’t do it without Ralph keeping everything ready and staying abreast of all the changes.”

What he loves most about his job is “trying to make things work that just don’t work.” Neiderhiser has to stay on top of new technologies of his trade, incorporating computers into what was once just mechanics. That part hasn’t been easy, he said, but he has been determined to continue learning and to adapt.

“I’ve never had a problem figuring out the mechanics part of it,” he said. “But the computer part ... yeah, I’ve been working hard on that.”

Burton firefighters were ready with a cake and birthday song on Tuesday.

Neiderhiser’s work “helps keep the fire district’s maintenance costs low and the fire apparatus in a constant state of readiness,” according to the release.

He is always on call and has been known to show up at fire scenes at all hours to repair a piece of equipment.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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