A retirement party was held Wednesday for Salt Lake City firefighter Lou Manning, something that might not seem out of the ordinary considering Manning is 65 years old this year. But in firefighter years, Manning's longevity is unheard of in Utah.

Manning retired Wednesday after being a Salt Lake City firefighter for 44 years. The average career of a firefighter is 26 years.

And Manning didn't coast into retirement with an administrative desk job. He stayed an active hands-on firefighter for his entire career. He retires as the oldest active professional firefighter in the history of Utah.

"I feel good leaving with my health, good memories, good friends," he said.

Manning's longevity is even more impressive knowing that firefighters put their lives on the line almost every day to help others.

"I guess I was just lucky. Always kept in shape," said Manning, who still bench presses 300 pounds every year on his birthday just to prove he can.

Reflecting on his career, the Salt Lake native who graduated from West High School still gets as excited talking about being a firefighter as a rookie.

"They should have let us pay them to do (our job)," he said.

"It was really fun. I enjoyed my career."

One of the biggest differences between firefighting then and now is the training and the strategy that goes into fighting fires. Firefighting today is more technical than it was 40 years ago.

"We used to just grab a hose and go in," he said. Training consisted of "grabbing a coat and a helmet and a pair of 'hurry ups.' "

On Manning's first night on the job he was called to a two-alarm fire. After that night, he was hooked for life. Throughout his career Manning said he had several close calls and several ceilings fall on him.

Despite the close calls, Manning, who comes from that special breed of hard-nosed firefighters, half-jokingly said the safety precautions fire crews take today have "taken the fun out of it."

He remembers one incident in the early 1960s when the Salt Lake Costume Company burned down. The temperature that night was well below freezing and the water in the fire hoses kept icing up, he said.

But Manning also noted that today's firefighters are more athletic than ever before. The testing to become a firefighter is rigorous and only a select few ever make it.

It's not just a job Manning is retiring from but a lifestyle — even he admitted he wouldn't know what to do with an eight-hour work shift. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts.

During Wednesday's retirement ceremony, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson read a proclamation honoring Manning. Manning was made an honorary chief and his badge No. 1 was retired, the equivalent of having a sports jersey retired.

Manning humbly said he didn't expect any of that Wednesday. In fact he said he was "overwhelmed" by all the attention.

"I just thought it was another guy retiring," he said. "Every firefighter deserves as much as I got."

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com