Fritz retires after 29 years leading department
By Holly Newmann
Chuck Fritz has decided to step down as chief of the Iola and Rural Fire Department.
“I have served as chief for 29 years and four months,” said Fritz. “A title I am very proud to say I have held.”
Fritz joined the department in September 1976.
“I had just moved to Iola from Peshtigo and was hired as the choral music instructor for the Iola-Scandinavia School District,” he said. “During a first-aid in-service for the school, Bill Westphal asked if I would be interested in joining the fire department. Always interested in fire trucks and sirens, I jumped at the opportunity. I never thought that someday I would be fire chief.”
Along with the title came a lot of responsibility.
“One of the biggest things as fire chief is you’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year,” he said. “When I would leave town for vacation or even a day trip, I wondered if there was going to be a fire call. Even if I was not in the area, I was still responsible to make sure a crew responded to the call.”
He noted that he had to learn to rely on his officers.
“Through the years, I have had a great set of officers that worked with me and supported my decisions,” he said. “I will definitely miss working with them.”
Fritz also gave credit to the fire board and the townships of Harrison, Helvetia, Iola, New Hope and the village of Iola that have always been very supportive of the fire department.
“Without their support we would not have the station we are in, the vehicles we have purchased and the state of the art equipment we use,” Fritz said. “Without these people, I could not have accomplished my job as being a successful chief.”
His best memory was being able to be the fire chief for that many years.
“It was a very humbling experience,” he said. “I have made many friends and acquaintances both personal and professionally throughout the state. But most of all, working with the dedicated members of the Iola department has been a very rewarding experience. Many great firefighters and EMTs have passed through the doors of the Iola & Rural Fire Department.”
Without a doubt his most notable experience was the 1999 Father’s Day fire in downtown Iola.
“It was the largest incident that I had to deal with in my entire career. Many days and hours were spent after the fire working with the state investigators, doing paper work, clean up and purchasing equipment that was damaged by the fire,” he said. “We were so lucky that there were no injuries or deaths from that incident.”
His decision to step down was not an easy one.
“I have been thinking about it for some time now,” he said. “As one gets older, I guess one really knows inside when it is time to do something and I felt this must be the right time. Jim Aanstad was interested in the chief’s job, so there was the qualified person to take over position. I’m sure he will do a great job at it and I wish him the best.”
Fritz does plan to remain involved with the department.
“The fire department is and has been an important part of my life, so I am not stepping away from it completely,” he said. “I will still be a member of the department and do the fire inspections for our area and help out at fires as a support person.”
He jokes that his clothes will still be placed on the chair next to his bed in a certain order ready to be put on when the pager sounds.
“I wish good luck to Chief Aanstad, his officers and the members of the Iola & Rural Fire Department,” he said. “I thank them all for the support they gave me throughout all these years as chief.”
To Aanstad he sends one message, “Remember, everyone goes home.”