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Fellow firefighters recall Capt. Joe Hansen’s spirit of generosity, love of Lodi

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Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:14 am, Wed May 9, 2012.

Capt. Joe Hansen, with his Tom Selleck-style moustache and big grin, was a giver. Though his peers in the Lodi Fire Department do not like to use cliches to describe him, they said there was no better way to detail Hansen's altruistic character than with the age-old saying: "He would give you the shirt off his back."

For firefighter Oscar Picazo, it was a battery charger he needed. He casually mentioned he was looking for one to Hansen, and the next time they saw each other, Hansen presented a new charger to him.

"You would say you needed something, and the next time he saw you, he was handing you whatever you needed or wanted," said Picazo.

Hansen, a 25-year veteran of the department, was killed early Friday when his 2004 BMW motorcycle collided with a snow marker along Highway 88 just east of Foster Meadow Road.

Hansen was thrown from his motorcycle, according to a collision report from the California Highway Patrol, and he suffered fatal injuries. It is unclear at this time why Hansen veered off the road.

He was 50 years old.

Hansen was known for his love of motorcycles. He kept the first motorcycle he ever purchased in his garage at his home on Medallion Way, firefighter Mark Azevedo said.

"He liked to just go out on a ride, he didn't really care where," Azevedo said. "He would tell us how he would go off onto dirt roads and just drive, and when he figured he had about half a tank of gas left, he would turn around and come back."

Azevedo added that he once asked Hansen if he ever thought about a GPS system for his bike, in case he managed to get lost.

Hansen responded that it wasn't a bad idea.

It was this adventurous spirit, this love for fresh air and the outdoors, that his colleagues remember fondly.

In addition to hobbies like biking and camping, Hansen was also an avid abalone diver, bringing back his catch to share with his peers and neighbors.

He was remembered for more than his free-spirited attitude; Hansen, the senior fire captain in the department, was described as an incredible listener.

Firefighter Kris Graves said Hansen was always willing to sit down and listen to someone's "beef" no matter the time of day.

Graves said that while most ask out of politeness how your day went, Hansen's curiosity was genuine. He truly cared about what someone had to say, whether it was light-hearted or serious.

"He really thought about his answers," Capt. Tim Thalken said of Hansen, his longtime friend. "You could tell that he was listening, but also you could see the wheels churning in his head."

Hansen grew up in Tracy. Following his graduation at Tracy High School, he went to San Joaquin Delta College, where he initially thought about going into law enforcement, but he later changed his mind and decided to go the firefighting route. Thalken and Hansen were both hired by the Woodbridge Fire Department in October 1984, where they began their firefighting career.

Hansen eventually made his way to the Lodi Fire Department just a few years later, and worked his way up to the rank of captain.

According to his peers, Hansen loved not only his job, but also the community service opportunities it presented.

Whether it was a walk to raise awareness for cancer or a fundraiser dinner, Hansen would always be there.

"I would just put his name down on the list because I knew without question that he would want to be there," said Capt. Peter Iturraran. "He was always the one who could be counted on ... he had that internal helper gene."

But despite his serious dedication to his work and volunteer service, Hansen liked a good joke, too.

There was a running prank the department would pull a few years ago, Thalken said, where firefighters would put a ring of toothpaste around the ear of the phone. Someone would then call late at night, catching an unsuspecting firefighter on duty.

Once, Thalken said, Hansen fell victim to the prank. Thalken said he remembered calling and hearing Hansen answer the phone.

"All I could do was laugh as I tried to hang up the phone," he said.

Those in the department have been on an emotional roller coaster, Thalken added, remembering their fallen comrade.

He said one minute someone is laughing at a story, and the next minute they find themselves crying.

When asked about what the department will miss most about Hansen, Thalken shook his head, trying to find something to say.

"Everything," he finally said. "We'll miss everything."

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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