Public education at center of fire chief's career

Pollpeter reflects on department's history, looks forward to retirement

Oct. 14, 2013

Germantown — Since its creation in 1989, the Germantown Fire Department has had a single leader — Fire Chief Gary Pollpeter.

Pollpeter has served as a firefighter for 42 years, starting with the Germantown Volunteer Fire Company in 1971. In his office at Fire Station 2 last week reflecting on his Nov. 15 retirement date Pollpeter said that he doesn't want to focus on himself. Rather, he wanted to discuss the Fire Department's history much of which revolves around public education.

The village took over the Germantown Volunteer Fire Company, creating the Germantown Fire Department in 1989. Pollpeter was appointed chief in 1990, a role he never left. Long before the village took over the department, public education has been a crucial goal of the firefighters.

From the Fourth of July parade to routine fire inspections, its presence can be felt at every community event and at every home throughout the village. This is a feat Pollpeter humbly says was accomplished through a joint effort among the firefighters.

"To me, there is nothing more important than public education, fire inspections, having a really good working relationship with the community, with business, with industry," he said.

Growing efforts

The public education efforts of the fire department have grown along with the village. The biggest public education event when Pollpeter started as a firefighter in the early 1970s was on Halloween. Germantown children gathered in front of Jerry's Old Town Inn on Main Street, marched up Main Street to Park Avenue, ending at First Station 1 where they would eat ice cream and watch movies.

The event grew to more than 400 kids and the Fire Department had to look for a new venue to host a public education event. The event moved to Kennedy Middle School, filling up half the gym each year.

After Fire Station 2 on Edison Drive was built in 2001, the annual Fire Safety Fair moved there. It is now held the first Saturday in October. This year's event raised $3,600, Pollpeter said.

"I truly feel it's the number one public education event. There's nothing that comes close to what our guys do here," Pollpeter said.

Firefighters take over EMS duties

Since Pollpeter was chief he saw the construction of a new fire station and the Survive Alive House, which has aided in education efforts. The building is used to teach the community fire safety skills, such as escaping a burning building.

The department also grew in providing emergency services. The first ambulance, which was actually a van, was donated by the Germantown Lion's Club to the Fire Company in 1972. From there, "EMS just took off," Pollpeter said.

Germantown implemented one of the first EMT certification programs in the state, he said. Now, all the firefighters in Germantown are cross-trained in firefighting and emergency medical services. Instead of a van, they now have four ambulances equipped with 12-lead transmission capabilities that assesses and sends emergency patient data to the hospital.

As the department and the technology have evolved, the camaraderie has been a constant.

"I think it will always be important that everyone has to work side by side or together," Pollpeter said. "We've been very fortunate since I've been here every time the truck goes out the door, everyone comes back. We haven't lost anybody. We've had some injuries but I'm really grateful that of all the calls we've had in the 40-some years I've been here that everyone came back."

As Pollpeter transitions into retirement, Deputy Chief Mike Maury will take over as fire chief until a new chief is hired Village Manager Dave Schornack said.

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