March 17--Capt. Oney Durney, a 41-year veteran of the Fresno Fire Department, told colleagues not to bother with a major celebration when he retires in a few months.
So they settled on a surprise barbecue lunch Saturday -- 41 years to the day from his first day of work in 1972 -- at Station 11 on North Fresno Street.
As a ruse, the battalion chief told him to show up for a "hot wash" -- firefighter lingo for debriefing -- about the gas leak that closed Shaw Avenue on Friday and part of Saturday.
The 64-year-old Durney dutifully studied his notes to prepare and arrived riding shotgun in the Station 13 fire truck.
He hopped down from the cab to be greeted like a long-lost brother by dozens of cheering firefighters and retired colleagues.
"In one word, he's a leader," Battalion Chief Rich Cabral said. "He leads by example. There used to be a joke that there wasn't a fire in the city he couldn't get to. When he leaves there will be a huge void in the organization."
When Durney began his career, Fresno had 10 fire stations -- now there are 24, including the airport station -- and Herndon Avenue was on the city's northern outskirts.
Always big on training, he graduated from the first paramedic class in 1975.
His new skills were soon put to the test.
"There was a triple shooting at Andy's Bar on South G Street -- two women and one man," Durney said.
He and his partner had just gotten certified, but a department rule prohibited firefighters from using the training or equipment until everyone had been certified.
But the victims were dying, so he called the paramedic instructor -- "I told everyone at the bar to shut up" so he could hear on the phone -- who told him to put in IVs and perform other procedures.
The battalion chief later bawled them out, but their quick action saved lives, he said.
Even though he is the most senior firefighter in the 350-person department and close to retirement -- he hasn't officially selected a date yet for his last day of work -- Durney isn't done with his training.
Last week, he finished a refresher class on firefighter safety just to stay current.
"He runs circles around 35-year-old guys," Fire Chief Ron Brown said.
Durney has pulled dead bodies out of burning buildings, but it hasn't all been grim, he said. He once rescued a cat whose head was stuck in a Skippy peanut butter jar by using K-Y Jelly.
Battalion Chief Tony Escobedo recalled that Durney once fought three structure fires in a row with a severely injured foot.
"He didn't tell anybody," Escobedo said. "We had to cut his boot off to release the pressure. He ended up in the hospital. If I could put a picture next to 'firefighter' in the dictionary, it'd be Oney."
In his first month on the job, Durney burned his legs at a fire and tried to hide it, but the chief made him go to the hospital.
The doctor told him to take a month off. Durney threw the instructions in the trash on his way out and went back to work.
"He's the firefighter's firefighter," said retired firefighter Mickey Katangian. "He'd die for you, he'd literally die for you."
The reporter can be reached at (559)441-6104, email@example.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.
Copyright 2013 - The Fresno Bee