Roth reflects on 42 years at Guttenberg Fire Dept.

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Firefighters Denny Roth (left) and his son Josh were honored at the 2014 Guttenberg Fire Department Banquet for 40 and 10 years, respectively, of service. (Press photo by Austin Greve)

By Molly Moser

Just before quitting time on Monday, Dec. 5, 1983, members of the Guttenberg Fire Department were called to the 400 block of South River Park Drive to fight flames that began inside Esser’s Shoes. The blaze required assistance from five additional fire departments (Garnavillo, Garber, Colesburg, Elkader, and Strawberry Point); 100 firefighters used 20 hose lines, five hydrants, and even Mississippi River water to drench the scene. 

In March of 1988, an early morning lightning bolt struck the building at 310 North River Park Drive. The bolt ignited a fire that cost Guttenberg two of its historic structures: A 100 year-old business building owned by Jean Green, and the three-story, 1860s building at 310 that was built of native lumber and hand-quarried limestone. That building contained The Style Shop, a clothing store, and two apartments above. Residents fled through the windows after their stairwell was engulfed in flames that took both the Guttenberg and Garnavillo Fire Departments three hours to bring under control.

Eight years ago, the Guttenberg Fire Department was again called to face one of the most spectacular fires in the city’s history. In December of 2007, a fire was discovered in the bathroom at the Sample Bar on Schiller Street. Patrons of the bar and residents of the upstairs apartments fled just in time as five additional departments from Garnavillo, Colesburg, Garber, Elkader, and McGregor helped to extinguish the flames. Meanwhile, classic cars were removed from the adjacent building and library workers quickly removed important records from the public library just feet from the inferno. Guttenberg’s pumper truck worked for 11 hours straight before failing, and firefighters returned to the scene several times after the initial flames were smothered to quench dangerous flare-ups from the smoldering ruins. 

Guttenberg firefighter Dennis Roth was on the scene at all three of these momentous blazes. They are some of the most memorable moments from his 40+ years on the fire department – but equally unforgettable are the friendships he has shared with crewmembers throughout his career.  

One special relationship is the one Roth shares with his son, fellow firefighter Josh Roth. Josh says his father has taught him a lot about what it means to be a fireman. “With all of his experiences over the years I have learned about what does and doesn't work in terms of the job and in terms of fellow firefighters,” said Josh. “It also allows me to keep the father/son relationship close between us.  We both enjoy discussions about the fire department and frequently have those discussions.”

Inspired by his father, Josh joined the department 12 years ago. “Growing up, it was the excitement and fast pace of response that caught my interest – the adrenaline when the pager or whistle blows. As I grew older, I could see his satisfaction from helping people when they are in their most trying moments, and the opportunity to help others and the community in their times of need,” Roth told The Press. “The satisfaction of helping someone and the community by far have been the most gratifying experiences of being on the department.”

The elder Roth became curious about fighting fires while working at his father’s service station, where he would have conversations with people on the fire department. He received training through the Guttenberg Fire Department and began fighting fires in April of 1973.

With the fire whistle calling for assistance on at least eight separate occasions over the past several weeks, Roth points out the increasing difficulty of finding volunteers to fight fires in Guttenberg. He advises all firefighters to keep safety first and foremost in their minds while on the job, to keep an open mind when it comes to new practices, and to take notice of the veteran firefighters.  

“Denny is the type of person that is really dedicated to what he's doing. On behalf of the City and the community, we are grateful for his service to the fire department for all those years," said Mayor Russ Loven. "We know that when firemen have spent that many years fighting fires, they're bound to run into some major disasters. We appreciate the work he's done and the time he's spent being a volunteer during those times of crisis.”

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