NORTH OGDEN -- Joseph Anderson told his boss there was no way he could ever be a clown. But 21 years later, he's looking back on the success of the Boots 'N Bunker fire-prevention program he pioneered in the Ogden schools.
The program started in spring 1990, Anderson said. He had become an assistant fire marshal in the Ogden Fire Department. His supervisor asked him to pilot a fire-prevention program for schools and mentioned that clowns were very effective in getting the message across to children.
"I told him there was just no way I could be a clown. I thought I would be very lousy at it," Anderson said. "He asked me to visit Provo city's program, so I asked firefighter Ted Layne to accompany me to just see what we thought about it."
The two loved the program, attended a weeklong fire-clown school in Arizona and came back fired up and ready to go.
"For nine years, Ted and I were Boots 'N Bunker," he said. "We have a lot of wonderful, fond memories and were very successful in teaching fire safety to many school-age children."
Since their legacy began, Anderson said, six other sets of firefighters have carried on the program in the Ogden schools.
Not only did Anderson pilot Boots 'N Bunker, he worked at the Ogden Fire Department for 25 years before moving to the North View Fire Department, where he has served as fire marshal.
At the end of the year, the 62-year-old veteran will retire after 38 1/2 years of service in a field he said he actually stumbled upon.
"My wife worked with Pat Murray, who was Chief Murray's daughter, and she mentioned that there was an opening at the Ogden Fire Department," Anderson said. "So when my wife got home from work that evening, she mentioned it to me, and I decided to go and apply the next day."
Anderson said he thought it sounded like a fun and exciting job. He took the written and physical tests and was hired 10 days later. He said today firefighter applicants are required to have all of their certifications before applying, and even then it may take several years to be hired.
Over the years, Anderson said he has compiled hundreds of memories, some wonderful, others tragically sad.
"My fondest memories are my first six years as a firefighter in Ogden. I remember being so excited to go to work each day," he said.
His wife, Marjean, would ask him why he was always so excited to go to work, and he told her it was because he never knew what would happen each day, and he was thankful to have the opportunity to help people.
"My saddest memory was the old Reed Hotel fire on 25th Street. There were 26 casualties with nine people losing their lives," he said. "Also, anytime children are involved. I personally investigated two fires where small children died. That was very hard for me. Anytime children are hurt or killed is difficult for a firefighter."
Born and raised in Ogden, Anderson attended Weber High School and Weber State University. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North and South Dakota, Nebraska and parts of Montana and Idaho. He and his wife have six children and 16 grandchildren.
His children said Anderson was a wonderful father who supported his family in every way he could.
"He is a very humble person. He really likes helping others. He enjoys it so much but never wants to be praised for it," said Anderson's son, Cody. "He taught us kids many things -- how to work hard, how to help take care of our own families."
Cody said the children admire their father's loving, caring attitude, because he is very honest and respected by his peers and community members. He said he and his siblings remember growing up and sliding down the fire poles, hearing the bells ring and the firefighters sliding down the poles and jumping into their gear.
"As a kid, a firefighter is always your hero, but our dad was an even bigger hero. He saved lives by pulling them out of burning buildings," Cody said. "But he also taught kids what to do in case of a fire. He now teaches his own grandkids, minus the clown costume."
After his retirement, Anderson said, he plans to remodel his home, catch up on forgotten projects and spend a lot of time with his family. He also wants to serve an LDS mission with his wife. He said he will always cherish the memories his career brought him.
"When you choose your life's work, choose something you love, not the amount of money you can make," he said.
During this holiday season, Anderson said, people can avoid fires in their homes by being careful with portable heaters, never leaving them on while gone. He also said to always put out candles before leaving and keep matches and lighters away from children.