Hanging up their hats
Joe Frericks, John Metcalf and Joe Deters are retiring from the SCFD with 68 years of combined service
by BRYAN ZOLLMAN
They say that people who have their limbs amputated scratch at their legs that have been dust for years.
The same could be said for firemen who continuously reach for their pagers long after they no longer are on the fire department.
Joe Deters, John Metcalf and Joe Frericks are three firemen who will feel such a big part of their lives missing in the coming months. But as they look back on the more than 68 combined years of service on the Sauk Centre Fire Department, they can do so with pride.
The three men announced their retirement from the department in the past few months. Age, health, and passing the torch to a younger generation of committed members of the community are all reasons why the three decided it was time to hang up their gear for good.
“I think we have one of the best departments around,” said Metcalf as he sat with Deters and Frericks at the fire hall, reminiscing about the past 25 years. “It’s just such a great bunch of guys.”
Deters, who also served as chief for five years, remembered when he first decided to become a fireman. He was a senior in high school and watched his house burn to the ground.
“I remember watching the firemen bust their butts that day,” he said. “We lost everything but the clothes on our back. But those guys made an impression on me that day.”
Deters’ brother-in-law, Marty Sunderman, asked him about joining and in 1988 he joined. Metcalf was a young man in the National Guard when he was approached by Ken Sunderman about joining.
“I said, yeah, why not,” he said. “I’ll give it a try.”
Dave Deters, Joe’s brother, asked Joe Frericks about joining.
“It just sort of went from there,” he said.
Things were different back in those days. There was no application process, and all a person had to do was submit their name. There was a waiting list so the existing members would vote on who to hire on. These days there are several agility and physical tests that prospective firemen must pass.
“Us three set the standard for those tests!” joked Metcalf.
All three firemen said the fatal fire at Noah’s Ark Restaurant in January 1985 that claimed the lives of David Kane and Doug Zabel also inspired them to join.
“We still say a prayer for those two guys before every meeting,” said Metcalf.
The camaraderie of the department has always been strong. It is a close-knit group that gets along both at and away from the department.
“We’re like one big family,” said Deters. “When that pager goes off there is one common goal and everyone’s got each other’s back.”
Over the years, all three firemen have seen their fair share of tragedy. Whether it is responding to somebody losing their home to a fire or losing their life in an accident, they are always there to do whatever they can to ease the burden of those involved.
Back in the late 1980s, there wasn’t much training involved so new crew members didn’t know what to expect.
“They just sent us out there and told us to get our hands dirty,” said Deters.
There were more structure fires then because so many places burned wood to heat their homes and farms. Nowadays, they fight fewer structure fires and respond to more accidents and rescues.
Training has become more sophisticated and so has equipment. While firemen are known to fight fires, they are also always involved in responding to vehicle accidents. With Highways 28 and 71 intersecting with Interstate 94, the fire crew has seen their fair share of twisted metal over the years.
“It’s tough,” said Deters. “I remember my first accident. You are so into trying to get them out of the vehicle that it doesn’t hit you until afterwards. We tell the guys, if you don’t feel comfortable at a scene, just step back.”
Frericks said that is when training kicks in and takes over.
“When it happens,” said Deters, “you do everything that needs to be done, and when the stuff hits the fan, the guys are there for each other.”
With some of the bad comes the good feeling of being able to help others, and that is what is at the core of the fire department, and these three guys.
“We are able to do things other people don’t have the chance to experience,” said Frericks, who retired due to a blood clot in his lung recently. “You are on the front line, seeing everything firsthand.”
Deters said he will miss meeting back at the fire hall after a call.
“We would sit around and talk about what went down and what we could have done differently,” he said.
Metcalf said he will miss the camaraderie of the guys, something they will all surely miss. And they will miss the adrenaline rush that comes with being a fireman. Deters remembers the first time his pager went off when he was a newbie in 1988.
“I tore through two pairs of socks trying to get them on,” he said.
“Even after 25 years, whenever that pager goes off, the adrenaline still runs hot,” said Metcalf.
But, as all three stated, it was time. Time to hang up the hats and pass the torch.
“This is a young man’s sport,” said Frericks.
The department already has two new members on board. Chuck Moritz and Brad Odegard joined the department recently (look for their story in an upcoming issue of the Herald).
“There are younger guys who can do this better than I can,” said Metcalfe.
In the coming months, though, it will take some getting used to, both for Frericks, Metcalf and Deters, and the existing firefighters who are used to seeing their friends by their side, and having their back all these years.
Chances are the three firemen will reach for that pager in the morning until they get used to their new way of life. No more rushing out of the house at 2 a.m. to respond to an accident on the interstate. No more fighting fires on a 90-degree summer day.
“We’re gonna miss the guys,” said Frericks.
“But we’ll still talk,” said Deters.
“Now,” said Metcalf, “we can sleep soundly.”