Craig Capt. Dennis Jones, a Craig Fire/Rescue veteran, snapped off a quick description of the all-consuming blaze that destroyed the Country Mall a week ago in Craig.
"As far as structure fires go, that was the biggest in my 18, 19 years here," Jones said. "On my 'oh (deleted) meter' that ranks right up there."
But, the mall fire that has since been deemed an arsonist's work, isn't tops on the captain's meter.
For that, he visits a wall inside the fire department, a wall lined with framed photographs from various calls over the years.
He points to one, a vehicle accident involving a tanker truck and a car. The accident happened a couple of years ago, west of Maybell, and claimed the life of a Craig motorist and an infant.
Firefighters were then left to deal with a 40-foot flame shooting from the back of the 10,000-gallon propane tanker.
Then there was a call last year, a fire at an oil well station south of Hamilton. The weather was 16 degrees below zero, and 24,000 gallons of oil on site made the threat of an already involved fire all the more real, Jones said.
"Those," Jones said, "are a couple of calls where at any given time your life could have been gone in a second. At any given time, they could have went south on us."
Fortunately, those calls didn't claim anyone, and in fact, no calls in department history ever have.
That doesn't mean the department, or Jones, strays from getting in the muck, however.
Jones, a self-described "born and bred" firefighter, is in his 19th year with the department. As one of two captains, he's second in line in the chain of command, behind only the chief.
He said firefighters "want to be in the thick of things." They want to be, he said, the ones "that go in and save the day."
And that's exactly what they wanted to do Sunday, Nov. 25 at the Country Mall, the scene of one of the worst blazes in city history.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time we do that," Jones said. "It was just too far gone. It was very humbling."
Jones, who leads one of the two department battalions, was on call when the report of the mall fire came in. A shoulder injury limited his service to incident command and
support at the Country Mall, and a fire at the county shop the day before.
True to the firefighter ethos, Jones didn't like standing on the sidelines at either fire.
The county shop fire, in particular, was difficult, he said.
Jones spent 18 years working out of the county shop as the road and bridge superintendent. He has been a customer sales service representative at Applied Industrial Technologies, which sits near the county shop, for the past three years.
He joined the department in 1989, at the urging of then-chief Tommy Cotton. Since then, there hasn't been a day gone by that he's regretted the decision.
"Finally, I just said to hell with it and joined one day," he said. "There was no rhyme or reason to it. : And what a ride it has been."
When that ride will end is anyone's guess.
The veteran who's seen it all throughout the years doesn't have any plans on calling it a career anytime soon.
"I'm going to ride this pony as long as my body will let me," Jones said. "And who knows when that will be."
Jones has been married to wife, Denise, a human resource coordinator at The Memorial Hospital, for 26 years. They have two children, Jeni, 22, and Nick, 20, both of whom live in Craig.
He also is the younger brother of Craig mayor Don Jones.
Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.