When Mark Runge retired, he hung up his gear and walked away from a 38-year career of firefighting, but he knew his service to the community wasn’t over. Runge has always had a calling to help others; it’s what led him to leave a corporate sales career and become a professional firefighter in the 1980s. Runge rose through the ranks at CCFR to become a Battalion Chief before retiring after 38 years of service to our community.
Throughout nearly four decades of service, Runge responded to thousands of emergencies. Like so many firefighters, these calls didn’t come without risk, and eventually injuries. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), firefighters experience more than 55,000 line of duty injuries every year, and the risk of injury and work-related illness increase as firefighters age. Runge recalls one particular house fire that led to a life changing moment; a moment that still pains him today.
While searching for victims on the second floor of a burning home, the floor gave way to the heat and flames below. Runge instantly grabbed an open window sill. As his life hung in the balance, a fellow firefighter grabbed him through the window, saving him from a catastrophic fall. The event left him with a separated shoulder that still gives him pain, and a constant reminder of that call, decades later.
Despite the injury, Runge believes he is one of the lucky ones who was able to return to active duty and continue his career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Life-threatening illnesses and life-changing injuries force many firefighters to leave the fire service before their full retirement benefits are available.
Most firefighters continue to work on the truck well into their 60s to reach the years of service necessary for their retirement benefits to be available. These extra years of responding to fires, medical emergencies and technical rescues increases their risk for injury and work-related illnesses. In addition to line of duty injuries, some of the biggest dangers our professional firefighters face are an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, PTSD, and most recently, exposure to COVID-19. These risks increase the longer a firefighter serves and the older they are.
“I was one of the fortunate ones who could retire in good health, before my body made the decision for me,” Runge says. “It means a lot to still be able to give back to the community through the CCFR Community Assistance Program.”
Click here to learn more about the CCFR Community Assistance Program and how Mark is continuing to serve the community he loves.