A Fire Service Renaissance Man: Remembering Peter Jorgensen

Peter Jorgensen, the publisher of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment magazine, died of cancer at his home in Tundbridge, Vt.,on Sept. 25 at age 68. Below is a remembrance by Jeff Berend, Elsevier Public Safety’s VP/Publisher.

A Fire Service Renaissance Man

The fire service is made up of many unique individuals, but none more unique than Peter Jorgensen. Whenever I'd see Pete at a conference or meeting, with his always-present bowtie and strong New England accent, I had to smile. He packed so many experiences and stories into his lifetime. Among the people I know, Pete ranked as a real renaissance man, with interests ranging from military history to aviation to buying ink by the barrel for his publications.

In fact, one of the first times I really got to know him was at a FEMSA meeting in San Antonio, Texas, at a dinner with Pete, Ed Nichols, Bob Barraclough and Bob’s wife, Betsy. (Bob has a habit of bringing interesting mixes of people together, and this was no exception.)

I asked Pete about his early newspaper days, and he shared some great stories. He told me about interviewing Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and more. This dinner was on me, and as we were getting ready to order, I looked at the wine list. The menu proudly touted several homegrown wines from the Texas Hill Country. When I suggested we try one, Pete gently took the wine menu from me and said “Tell you what, how about if I order the wine.” He did it in a very gracious way that didn’t make me feel like an idiot (and best of all, he said he wanted to pay for it!). He proceeded to order a 1998 Jordan Cab from the Alexander Valley. It was the best wine I’d ever had.

So add fine wines to the list of things that interested Pete Jorgensen, and of which he was extremely knowledgeable. It’s fortunate for the nation’s fire service that for Pete his interest in all things fire apparatus and firefighting ranked high above the Civil War and flying planes and collecting wines.

His Fire Apparatus magazine filled a unique niche by reporting on the industry side of the fire service in a very original way. Pete’s Publisher’s letter in each issue always had an interesting take, some news statistics and intriguing industry observations. Between Pete and Bob Barraclough’s writing in those pages, you were always left with some new information (not to mention the other contributors like Robert Tutterow, Rich Marinucci and more).

I always enjoyed commiserating with Pete on the things only publishers could care about—subscription fulfillment practices, blasted postal increases, etc. But every time I thought I had a sense for all his interests, I’d find there’d be yet another.

I shared with him one time that our company also publishes Law Officer magazine for the law enforcement community. He proceeded to share that he was also, in his spare time, a reserve officer in his hometown. And yes, he’d like me to send him a copy of the magazine.

What’s more, I’m positive there were dozens more passions and interests, and hundreds more stories. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to hear more of them.

Jeff Berend

Editor’s Note: Below is the official obituary released by Jorgensen’s family:

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment publisher C. Peter Jorgensen died of cancer at his home in Tunbridge, Vt., on Sept. 25 at age 68.

He grew up in Arlington, Mass., where he joined the auxiliary fire department when he was 18. During college he and friends ran a Boston news photo agency that supplied fire and emergency services photos to wire services and local newspapers.

He and his wife Kathryn, a Boston University journalism master’s program classmate, bought The Arlington Advocate in 1969. When they sold their company in 1986 they had six suburban weekly newspapers.

He also published four Vermont and New Hampshire weeklies in the mid-1970s and The Commercial and Financial Chronicle in New York City, which he bought in 1973.

In 1986 Jorgensen and his wife started Historical Publications, which now publishes The Artilleryman, a quarterly magazine he founded in 1978; Civil War News, a current events newspaper started in 1988; and Fire Apparatus, the national fire service industry magazine Jorgensen started in 1996.

He owned Firetec Apparatus Sales from 1996 to 2002 and served on the Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association board of directors from 1998 to 2001.

Jorgensen was a dedicated first responder and carried his own jump kit and defibrillator. A highlight of his career came in May 2003 near Winchester, Va., when he revived a collapsed man with his defibrillator.

His varied interests and collections included military history, especially Civil War and World War II books and art, Mack fire trucks, cannons, John Deere tractors, bamboo fly rods and Civil War artifacts. He competed in carbine, musket, revolver, cannon and mortar events in the North-South Skirmish Association.

Jorgensen held an associate in arts degree and bachelor of science and master of science degrees in journalism from Boston University.

He is survived by his wife, Kathryn, of Tunbridge, a brother, sister and two nephews.

The funeral will be Saturday, Oct. 3, at 12 p.m. at the Tunbridge Church followed by a committal service and party, both at his 234 Monarch Hill Road home.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Tunbridge Public Library, PO Box 9, Tunbridge VT 05077; the Tunbridge Church, c/o Townsend Swayze, 56 Swayze Rd., Tunbridge VT 05077; or the Civil War Preservation Trust, 1331 H. St. NW, Suite 1001, Washington, DC 20005-4761.

Boardway & Cilley Funeral Home of Chelsea, Vt., is handling arrangements.

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