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Third-generation public safety veteran blazed his own trail in Farms

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 6, 2016

 Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Lt. Jack Patterson — seen here in front of one of the city’s fire trucks — recently retired after more than 30 years with the department. His many areas of expertise included firefighting and vehicle maintenance.

Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Lt. Jack Patterson — seen here in front of one of the city’s fire trucks — recently retired after more than 30 years with the department. His many areas of expertise included firefighting and vehicle maintenance.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Whoever the Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department hires next is going to have some big shoes to fill.

Peers say veteran Farms Public Safety Lt. Jack Patterson — who retired June 24 after 33 years and four months on the job — was not only a well-rounded public safety officer, but also someone to whom others could turn for answers or information.

“You always knew Jack would take care of things,” said Sundee Harland, a fire specialist in the Farms who has worked for the Public Safety Department for the last 13 years and spent eight years prior to that serving the Farms as a medic. Harland said that when anyone had a question about guns or equipment, someone would say, “Ask Jack.”

As a commanding officer, she acknowledged that Patterson “was tough” and had high expectations of those who worked under him, but in so doing he brought the best out in everyone.

“Jack just brings a wealth of information to the job,” Farms Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen said. “He’ll be missed.”

Patterson, 55, started working for the Farms when he was 22. The Grosse Pointe Woods native, who turns 56 in November, is a third-generation public safety professional. His grandfather, Sumner Patterson, was a Detroit firefighter, and his late father, Jack L. Patterson, was a former public safety director in Grosse Pointe Woods who died in 2011.

Being from a long line of people in the field influenced Patterson’s decision to go into it, although he admitted, “There were days my dad tried to talk me out of it.”

Patterson started out as a police officer in the Farms — which then still had separate police and fire departments — and became a public safety officer after the department made that switch a few years into his tenure.

“He’s been an extremely important part of this department,” said Jensen, who started working for the department just a few years before Patterson. “He’s an integral part of just about everything we do.”

Patterson — who has been a lieutenant for about the last 24-25 years, and was a sergeant for only nine months before that promotion — ran the Farms’ fire division for many years.

“He’s a hell of a firefighter,” Jensen said. “He’s the best firefighter I’ve ever known, (and) one of the most knowledgeable guys in the area of police and fire I’ve ever run into.”

Harland said Patterson was the one who always ordered essential new parts like tires for the vehicles, and he made sure officers had up-to-date equipment and safety gear. She said he “wasn’t afraid to speak his mind” when it came to making sure officers had what they needed to stay safe on the job.

“He’s going to be missed,” said dispatcher Katie Gacobelli, who has been with the department for 31 years. “He knows so much about the fire trucks, he could sell them. (His retirement) will change the whole dynamics of the department, because he has a lot of experience and knowledge.”

One of the biggest blazes for which Patterson was in charge was at the Country Club of Detroit on Aug. 27, 2010. The fire consumed an old maintenance building but was largely contained despite its ferocity. Patterson said “it was a miracle” that there were no serious injuries that day.

“I was fortunate (throughout my tenure) that no one under my command got hurt or worse,” he said.

Harland said that was a hallmark of Patterson’s approach to the job.

“He’s the kind of person who always made sure his people were taken care of,” she said. “He put his people first as far as safety was concerned. You could trust him and rely on him. He always had our backs. That’s an important thing in this business.”

One of Patterson’s favorite memories was being able to save a resident’s wedding photos from her burning home. The house had been struck by lightning and was destroyed during the blaze, but he said that as he was walking through one of the rooms while fighting the fire, he saw the photos.

“I was able to grab those off of the wall and save them for her. … If we can do that (during a fire), we try,” he said of striving to at least preserve irreplaceable mementos.

While he’s technically retiring, Patterson won’t be sitting on the couch binge-watching TV. A family friend asked him to work in his gun store, and Patterson — a firearms expert — accepted the job, which will find him working full time and possibly teaching gun safety classes as well.

“I had planned on doing nothing for a couple of months, but it looks like that’s not going to happen,” said Patterson, who was slated to start his new job within days of his retirement.

He launched an AED program in all Farms public safety vehicles roughly 15 years ago, but Patterson said he didn’t have a chance to use the equipment until roughly three or four years ago, when officers were called to assist a local woman during a medical emergency. She had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, but Patterson said he was able to bring her back as emergency medical technicians entered the home.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said of that lifesaving moment, one of the most memorable of his career.

Even during his last week on the job, Patterson was out performing lifesaving heroics, working with fellow officers to rescue ducklings that had fallen into a storm sewer on the property of Christ Church Grosse Pointe. Happily, all nine of the ducklings were safely reunited with their ecstatic mom.

Patterson and his wife, a retired accountant, are the parents of two young adult children. Their daughter, who once contemplated a career in public safety, is now a pastry chef at a local bakery, while their son, a college student, hopes to become a mechanic, possibly specializing in work on emergency vehicles.

Patterson said he won’t miss the phone calls at all hours of the day and night, but he will miss “the people I work with.” But he might be seeing them again sooner than he thinks.

“He said he’s available for anything we need,” Jensen said. “That speaks of his class. We do hope to bring him back for some training.”

Harland also said Patterson told her and others in the department they can call with questions.

“I told him to keep his (cell) phone on, because I will be calling (him),” Harland said with a laugh. “He’ll definitely be missed. It’ll be strange without him around here.”