KEYSER - Many people in the community will remember “Big” Bob Dorsey as a dedicated firefighter who rarely missed a call to help save someone's home or property.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Many people in the community will remember “Big” Bob Dorsey as a dedicated firefighter who rarely missed a call to help save someone’s home or property.
Those who fought those fires along side him, however, will remember him as a brother or father figure who always watched out for them.
“He took good care of us,” chief Brett Biddle said Thursday, noting that even when Dorsey’s age took him off the front line, he could still be found on the scene, making sure everyone had what they needed to do their job.
“He was really big on watching out for everybody,” Biddle said.
Dorsey, who dedicated 70 of his 98 years to serving his community as an active member of the Keyser Volunteer Fire Department, passed away quietly Wednesday at his residence.
Dorsey joined the Keyser Fire Department in 1941 and from then his continual service earned him the distinction of being the oldest active member of the department. He retired in 2011.
“He is probably the main reason I got into the fire department,” former chief Mike Simpson said, remembering that Dorsey had told him at the time, “We need strong young men.”
Simpson also recalls that Dorsey was not afraid to tell you what he thought.
“I remember it was the first or second fire I was on, and Bob grabbed me by the back of the coat jacket and said, ‘Boy, you better slow down or you’re gonna kill somebody!’”
Simpson said Dorsey taught him much of what he knows as a firefighter, and when he was asked to become chief, he asked his mentor, “Do you think I can do it?”
“And Bob said, ‘You’ve got this. I taught you!’” Simpson said.
“The fire department will not be the same without him.”
Assistant captain Boyd Robinson also told the News Tribune that Dorsey was the main reason he joined the fire department.
“He was a great leader, mentor, family man, and friend,” he said. “A true symbol of what the fire service is suppose to be - sacrifice for others, hard work, sweat, and dedication.”
“He taught me how to run the trucks,” Bill Harman Sr. said, adding, with a laugh, “I put up with him for 54 1/2 years. We got along.”
Now, Harman’s son, Bill Harman Jr., has memories of working with Dorsey as a second-generation firefighter.
Former Keyser chief Dave Harman remembers a time many years ago, before the Elk District Fire Department had been formed, when Keyser was responding to a fire call on the mountain.
Dorsey, who was the chief at the time, and “Lefty” Rice, who was the assistant chief, were on their way up in an old Ford pick-up the company kept for them to respond to incidents. The farther up the mountain they went, the icier it got.
When Dorsey learned that one of the trucks responding after them had hit an icy patch and gone off the road, “Bob grabbed hold of Lefty and said ‘we’re going back down after them,’” Harman said.
Because of that concern for others, fourth-generation firefighter William Zacot says he looked to Dorsey as a family member as well as a fellow firefighter.
“I grew up in the firehouse. When my grandfather died, I began to look to Bob as a grandfather figure. He was always there … if I was raising too much cain, he would always straighten me out,” he said.
Zacot says he will always remember Dorsey’s advice to them all - advice which they are now having placed on t-shirts in his memory: “Get your heart in the department or get your a$$ out of it.”
“Bob never sugar-coated anything,” Zacot said, smiling.
It was a comment Dorsey made to him on the evening of his tribute parade, however, that perhaps means the most to Zacot, who took a seat on the Keyser City Council this past July.
When Zacot kneeled beside Dorsey and shook his hand as the veteran waited for his ride outside his house, he asked his mentor how he thought he was doing in his new position with the city.
“He said, ‘You’re doing good. Don’t ever let them get you down.,’” Zacot said. “That really meant a lot.”
Following Dorsey’s Mass of Christian Burial at the Church of the Assumption at 10 a.m. Saturday, his body will be escorted to Keyser’s Fire Station No. 2 for the traditional firefighter memorial.
Biddle said fire companies from all over the state have called with the desire to be there for Dorsey’s Last Call, which will be followed by a procession through Keyser to St. Thomas Cemetery.
It will be an emotional time for all.
“He meant a lot to us,” Biddle said. “And he took good care of us.”