Olson served 38 years with department
By Robert Cloud
After 38 years with the Waupaca Area Fire District, Chief Jeff Olson is hanging up his helmet.
Supervising a department of 32 volunteer firefighters who cover an area of 142 square miles, Olson has been Waupaca’s fire chief for 13 years.
Olson said he joined the fire department at the urging of his father-in-law, Don Waller. He was 22 years old at the time.
“I’ve always liked to help out my neighbors,” Olson said.
He started working at Waupaca Foundry in 1973 and retired in 2008. In 1994, Olson began working in the foundry’s safety department.
Olson said he has seen significant changes in building construction and firefighter equipment over the past four decades.
“They used to use copper plumbing. Now, they use all plastic and PVC tubing,” Olson said. “That makes it more dangerous when there’s a fire because the smoke is more toxic.”
Olson said the equipment used to control fires and protect firefighters has become more user friendly and more efficient.
“The latest vehicle we purchased was a heavy rescue unit,” Olson said. “It comes with preconnected tools. All we have to do is pull up and we’re ready. In the past, we had to hook up a separate pump.”
Olson said the lighting has also been upgraded with halogens and LED lights.
“We have two vehicles with telescopic lighting that can actually light up a football field,” Olson said.
He said modern air cylinders are composed of carbon rather than steel, which makes them lighter and easier to wear.
“There are alarms on the air packs. If a firefighter lays still for 30 seconds, the alarm goes off so we can find him,” Olson said.
Air masks now have communications equipment, so firefighters are in constant contact with each other and supervisors.
The local fire district serves the city of Waupaca and the towns of Farmington, Dayton, Waupaca and Lind. The four town chairmen and the city’s mayor sit on the committee that oversees the department.
“They’ve been really good to work with,” Olson said about the committee. “We put in $75,000 a year into the budget for purchasing new equipment. When we have enough funds, we can buy a new vehicle without borrowing any money.”
Olson said the fire district has purchased eight new vehicles during his tenure as chief.
“We don’t just go to a dealership and buy a truck off the lot,” Olson said. “When we buy a larger vehicle, like an engine or a tender, we form a committee, go through a very detailed process or research. A lot of time is spent spec’ing the vehicle to make sure it fits the needs of the people we serve.”
Olson, who stepped down at the end of 2015, said the fire district committee will be interviewing potential candidates for the position.
Currently, First Assistant Chief Jerry Deuman Jr. is the department’s interim chief.
Now that he is retired, Olson said he plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and more time at his lake home located about 100 miles north of Waupaca.