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Published: Tuesday, 6/2/2009

Ex-fire chief wins volunteer award

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Carl Neeb displays the award that he won because of the work he has done to improve the safety of the elderly. Carl Neeb displays the award that he won because of the work he has done to improve the safety of the elderly.
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Carl Neeb may have retired as Toledo's fire chief 29 years ago, but he didn't stop caring about public safety.

For the past nine years, former Chief Neeb has been a member, and leader, of the Toledo Police Department's Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol, which visits elderly shut-ins weekly to check on their safety and well-being and, as appropriate, help with minor tasks at home.

Chief Neeb recently received the Gold Award at Medical Mutual of Ohio's ninth annual Outstanding Senior Citizen Volunteer Awards, which recognize individuals 65 years and older for exemplary community service.

The retired fire chief had helped care for both his father and his mother-in-law, the latter of whom lived to be 103, so he called on that experience after responding to a call for volunteers when the police department started the RSVP program in 2000.

"I had been looking for something to do again," Mr. Neeb said. "I was in the first training class. There are probably four or five of us left" from that class among the more than 50 volunteers now in the program, which is co-sponsored by the Area Office on Aging of Northwest Ohio Inc.

Volunteer teams travel in pairs and make six to nine visits each weekday, with each participant typically making such visits one day per week, he said. Besides checking on shut-ins' safety, they check for any situations that might warrant referrals to the Area Office on Aging or other social-service agencies.

"We also might help out around the house if there are little things that need to be done, like changing a light bulb," Mr. Neeb said.

"For the most part, they greet us with a smile and leave us with a hug," he said. For many clients, an RSVP visit is a social highlight of "an otherwise dull, lonely day."

Though the retired chief has had no emergency encounters of his own during visits, he said other team members have happened upon situations like smoke, natural-gas leaks, and even injured or unconscious people for whom they summoned help.

RSVP now has about 85 clients. While "there certainly could be a need" for such a service outside Toledo, Mr. Neeb said, the program is limited to city residents.

Mr. Neeb retired as Toledo's fire chief in 1980 after four years atop the department that concluded his nearly 30-year firefighting career.

On a family-room wall in his Sylvania Township home hangs a photo montage of memorable fires from his career, including the spectacular Tiedtke Department Store blaze on May 7, 1975, and the June 10, 1961 explosion and fire involving a wrecked gasoline truck on the Anthony Wayne Trail that killed four firefighters and burned 10 others.

Now 84, Mr. Neeb is older than many of the people he visits, but he's glad to take advantage of his good health and mobility to serve them.

The program typically needs about 15 new recruits each year to balance out those who withdraw for whatever reason, he said.

Finalists for Medical Mutual's award were chosen by the company's Senior Advisory Council of Toledo, a panel of local senior citizens that advises the firm on health-care issues.

"We have a lot of volunteers who are deserving of recognition, but I'm glad to represent our organization in receiving this award," Mr. Neeb said.



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