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Always on the job ... UHP chief Dan Fuhr

Every night is the same for Col. Danny Fuhr as he tries to sleep between the rings and pings of his cellphone, which lies on the bedside table.

As superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, he is notified, night and day, of every pursuit, every use of force, every trooper injury, every freeway closure, every major property destruction, every major interdiction and every traffic fatality. Each time the phone goes off, Fuhr wakes and checks the message or answers the call.

31-Dec., 4:35 a.m. Troopers on the scene for head-on collision on SR 201. Both drivers killed instantly. Road closed.

In a fairly routine night recently, he received his first message at 2:30 a.m. and began exchanging emails at 5 a.m. This is why he sleeps in a downstairs room while his wife sleeps upstairs in the master bedroom. The phone keeps her awake.

29-Jan., 11 p.m. — UHP officers on the scene of fatal crash on I-80.

“It never ends,” says Fuhr. “It’s just as active at 10 at night as it is in the day.” This is not a complaint. After all, this is a man who likes his job so much that he takes only one vacation from his phone each year — for a week. “I love this job,” he says. “I love it! At the end of the day I feel like I’ve done something beneficial.”

20-Jan., 11:28 p.m. — Trooper stops pickup on eastbound I-80 and discovers 136 pounds of marijuana on a probable cause search.

This is how much he loves the work. As superintendent, he could easily sit in his office performing administrative duties, but he frequently pulls blue-collar trooper duty. The night before the Super Bowl, he worked a DUI checkpoint from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., something he does a dozen times a year. He goes out on patrol duty on snowy days or if there’s a major crash. On holiday weekends, he does car and motorcycle patrols in his spare time. He assists on special events, such as the Tour of Utah bike race. All of this is on his own time — he doesn’t get paid extra for these duties.

“As an administrator, it’s my job to make sure the troopers have proper equipment and are trained well and held accountable,” he says. “But the dessert is to work with the troopers. Ask my secretary. I’m hardly in this office. I’m out there. The reason is, I have a lot of respect for what our troopers do. I like to let them know what they are doing is so important.”

19-Jan., 10:44 p.m. Two men with outstanding warrants stopped on I-15. One of them flees. Attempted Taser fails to stop him, leading to a chase on foot. He is caught in an industrial yard.

Fuhr can’t resist doing traffic enforcement even when driving between his home in Davis County and the office in Salt Lake City. Recently, he pulled over a man who had passed him doing 107 miles per hour. The other day he was driving to a meeting when he pulled over a woman who was driving 93 mph.

“It’s hard to go to work without educating drivers,” he says. “Mostly I give warnings and try to praise good behavior. If I see a cellphone that isn’t being used or someone wearing a seat belt, I praise that. I just want people to be safe. But the one thing I never give warnings for are DUIs. They’re going to jail.”

31-Dec., 12:52 a.m. Trooper’s car struck by passing car while investigating crash on I-80 westbound. A short time later another trooper’s vehicle struck on I-80 eastbound. No injuries.

Fuhr supervises an organization that includes 450 troopers, 100 dispatchers, 100 civilian staff members and 25 employees of the Highway Safety Office. They oversee thousands of miles of interstate and state roads and assist other agencies when necessary for fires, floods, shooters, domestic violence and house searches. Besides the troopers, they have specialized squads — SWAT, motorcycle, divers, helicopters, public information and education, accident investigation.

UHP, one of about 140 law enforcement agencies in Utah, handles about 33 percent of all DUI arrests in Utah, half of all road fatalities, and more drug interdictions than any state in the West. In 2014, UHP made 246 drug seizures and 296 felony arrests, netting 7,276 pounds of marijuana, 22 pounds of cocaine, 153 pounds of meth, 20.3 pounds of heroin and 14 pounds of mushrooms.

29-Jan., 1:34 p.m. UHP troopers assist Vernal City in armed robbery at Vernal Arby’s restaurant. Knife-wielding suspect surrenders.

Fuhr, a trim 46-year-old father of four, was raised primarily in northern Idaho and Washington. He served an LDS Church mission in Texas, spent a year at BYU and graduated from Weber State University with a degree in criminal justice. He worked briefly in the criminal division of the Utah State Hospital before moving on to state Corrections and the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. He started his UHP career as a trooper in Davis County, but after three years he was assigned to special operations groups — SWAT, motorcycles, DUI and the protection detail for two governors. In 2009, at the age of 40, he was appointed superintendent of the UHP. He has endured six years in a job that averages 2½ years, making him the second most senior superintendent in the West.

“When I started this job, I had a lot darker hair and no bald spots,” says Fuhr, whose hair has been overrun by gray.

31-Jan., 2:36 a.m. Double tanker hauling propane catches fire. Fire put out before explosion occurred. Eastbound and westbound traffic shut down for 20 minutes.

Fuhr is a gung-ho officer who is still a regular patrolman at heart. He believes strongly in the role of police and, specifically, the highway patrol, and sees his job as a mission of service. In any conversation about his troopers he uses words like “dedicated” and “brave,” and he believes their work should be valued. That, of course, has not always been the case in recent months, given the general anti-law enforcement feelings that have arisen in the U.S.

“It’s got all of us concerned,” says Fuhr. “No. 1, we need good, ethical, qualified officers. People don’t do this job for pay or to get rich. They do it because they have a passion for public service, to help people in time of need. Police will make mistakes. If we as a society attack officers, who are we going to recruit to do those jobs? Somebody’s got to do them. If the public no longer values that service, why would anyone want to do this at poverty pay levels?”

The average starting salary of a UHP trooper is $18 an hour or $37,440 per year. It peaks at $27/$56,130. Combine that with other aspects of the job and you wonder why anyone wants the job.

“The biggest issue is stress,” says Fuhr. “When a trooper is on the road, his level of alertness is through the roof,” says Fuhr. “It has to be.”

31-Jan., 1:56 p.m. Troopers pursue Mercedes on I-15. Female driver refuses to yield and reaches speeds of 120 mph. Suspect’s vehicle breaks down before reaching spike deployment. Driver appears to be emotionally distressed. Her family has been contacted.

Even the routine act of approaching a car on the side of the road triggers anxiety as questions flood his mind. Does the driver or passenger have a gun? Are they impaired? What’s their disposition going to be? Is someone going to jump out of the car? Is he going to get hit by a passing car?

“Half of what we do is warnings,” says Fuhr. “We’re not trying to hammer people. We are there really to educate on life-saving measures.”

Public perception can be another story. Thanks to several highly publicized incidents and YouTube, cops are sometimes perceived as power-hungry storm troopers who use excessive force in dealing with the public. Fuhr’s reponse: His force emphasizes “the three P’s — proficient, proactive (“make a difference every day”), professional (“don’t treat people like objects; be compassionate, treat them as you want to be treated).”

To emphasize how serious he is about trooper behavior, Fuhr notes that he has terminated 30-35 officers “to maintain integrity and hold people accountable. It’s not the fun part of the job. But our No. 1 goal every day is to ensure that each trooper returns home safe and with honor, with his integrity intact.”

31-Jan., 11:38 p.m. Subaru driving northbound in southbound lane on I-15 sideswiped a southbound Ford. Female driver of Subaru arrested for DUI with injuries.

It’s not a completely thankless job. Fuhr has collected hundreds of emails and letters from citizens thanking him for the service of one of his troopers. He cites numerous incidents of cops going beyond the call of duty to help citizens.

One trooper found a car pulled over in the Great Basin area with a flat tire on one wheel and a donut replacement tire on another wheel. The driver explained that he couldn’t afford new tires. The top took him to the nearest Wal-Mart and bought tires for the man out of his own pocket.

Fuhr keeps the stories coming. Another trooper bought a man new shoes. Then there was the trooper who made a death notification for a family in Cache Valley at dinnertime. After returning to his car and driving away, he stopped at a restaurant, ordered takeout food and delivered it to the grieving family.

Another trooper came upon a crash scene in which the mother of two small children was killed. The trooper took the children to his home for the night until the father could drive from Wyoming to pick them up.

In another highly publicized incident, trooper Jeff Jones pulled over an elderly woman in the Millard area who was swerving all over the road; he learned that she was trying to get to an Ogden hospital before her son died. After she was issued a warning, she backed her car into the cop’s patrol car. Jones arranged to have her vehicle towed and drove her personally to Juab County, where trooper Jared Jensen drove her to Utah County, where trooper Chris Bishop drove her to Salt Lake County, where trooper Andrew Pollard, who was just ending his shift, drove her the rest of the way to Ogden. The entire effort took nearly four hours.

“That’s why I love this job,” says Fuhr. “This stuff occurs every day. The majority of the public understands and values what we do. The vast majority of officers are in it for the right reason.”

24-Jan., 9:22 p.m. Trooper stopped Chevy pickup, but pickup accelerated and drove off, striking trooper's car. A high-speed chase ensued on Hwy 163 reaching 90 mph. Trooper attempted pit maneuver resulting in termination of the chase. Driver was intoxicated.

Email: drob@deseretnews.com