Dave Truax is Dover's premiere fire man

May 16 is Dover City Fire Marshal Dave Truax’s last day on the job. His office is cleaned out and he’s already relinquished his day-to-day chores to assistant Tim Mullaney.

But Truax isn’t going very far once he turns over the keys to his city-issued truck. Starting Monday Dover’s top fire man will be working for the Delaware State Fire Commissioner.

“I’ll be running up and down the state handling complaints and doing ambulance inspections,” he said. “It’ll be at about the same pace as what I’m doing now, but it’ll be in a different venue and that’s a little more refreshing.

“I’m looking forward to a new challenge.”

Challenge is Truax’s meat and potatoes. He seems to thrive on making sure people are safe from danger, from his days as a Smyrna High School student volunteering with the town’s fire company, to earning a criminal justice degree from Delaware Technical Community College, to becoming the city of Dover’s chief fire investigator and inspector.

“Dave’s been a great job of professionalizing the office,” said Dover City Manager Scott Koenig. He’s been an advocate of improving the fire investigation component to the point we now have someone with police powers so they can complete an investigation in his office.”

Truax always has been interested in what causes fires and what it takes to put them out. After graduating from Smyrna in 1983, he worked for the town’s school district while continuing to volunteer for its fire company.

Truax joined the ranks at the Dover fire marshal’s office in 1990 as an inspector, became the city’s deputy fire marshal three years later and moved to the top job in June 1996.

The job was a perfect match for someone dedicated both to fire safety and not being tied to a desk.

“I’m not a cubicle kind of guy,” Truax said. “I have the entire run of the city. Every day, I’m out in the community, either doing investigations or inspecting. I don’t like being confined to an office.”

Truax has seen his share of fires, from the blaze that destroyed the old Spence’s Bazaar to the recent fire that gutted the Kirby & Holloway restaurant.

Perhaps the biggest case in Truax’s career wasn’t a single fire, but a rash of arsons that took place over several weeks in early 2000.

“It was getting to the point that [volunteer firefighters] would get off work, have dinner, take a nap and then go to the fire station because they knew there might be a fire that night,” he said.

A suspect was finally caught in the act after he’d set about 15 fires that caused more than $1 million in damages, Truax said. The case was solved by the efforts of his office, Dover Police and the State Fire Marshal.

Over the years, Truax has fought a continuing battle to require automatic sprinkler systems in new construction, despite opposition from many builders and homeowners. It was and still is one of the best ways to contain a fire and save lives, he said.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m 100 percent behind that,” he said. “It still amazes me how many people don’t want to put them in their buildings. I’ve seen with my own eyes how quickly they can suppress a fire.”

Koenig noted it will be hard to fill the void left by Truax’s retirement.

“We’re certainly going to miss him,” he said. “But he’s going on to work for the state, so we’ll continue to benefit from his expertise.”

As he prepares to turn leave his office in City Hall, Truax admits he’ll miss a lot about working for the city, except, perhaps, for those 2 a.m. phone messages calling him out to a fire scene.

“I won’t have a vehicle that I take home with me every night, and I’m fine with that,” he said. “After all these years, it’s not that big of a perk.”