You are about to hear the remarkable story of someone who had been active in the fire service for 63 years until his retirement on June 30 of this year. The Calabash Elks Lodge recognized and honored Jay Bertha recently with a Volunteer Firefighter of the Year certificate, along with a service medal from the Elks Grand Lodge.
Bertha started his long first responder career as a young firefighter with the Port Ewen Volunteer Fire Department in New York State, where he was born. He worked his way through the ranks up to chief of the department before retiring and moving to Calabash, after 40 years of volunteer service.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Jay, along with his brother firefighters, traveled to Ground Zero and joined in the rescue operations. To this day, on Sept. 11, Jay and firefighters from his Fort Ewen department return to Ground Zero and reflect.
A Vietnam veteran, having served in the U.S. Army, he is a member of Calabash VFW 7288, where he serves as a trustee, in addition to volunteering wherever he is needed.
Until his recent retirement at the ripe youthful age of 83, Jay had volunteered with the Calabash Fire Department for 23 years and held the rank of captain of the traffic squad. When his pager would go off, no matter what time of the day or night, no matter what the weather, Jay would respond to each and every alarm that he possibly could. This amounted to, without exaggeration, hundreds of calls each year.
With 63 years of time in the fire service under his belt, Jay certainly had many stories to share with his comrades at the firehouse. One of the favorites from his time in Calabash occurred when he was responding to his very first fire call. It seems that Jay did not know that, unlike New York State, the state of North Carolina restricts the use of blue emergency lights to law enforcement officers. Jay proudly responded to his first fire call with blue lights blazing on his vehicle, only to be accused of impersonating a law enforcement officer by a sheriff’s deputy. Luckily, the fire chief at the scene was able to explain the confusion and Jay was free to go.
You can usually find Jay on Sunset Beach every morning at the break of dawn as he swims a couple of miles to get his day started. The Calabash Elks Lodge thanks Jay for his service to our residents and wish him all the best in his retirement.