He is a second-generation Hamel firefighter
Jeff Ruchti started out as a firefighter with the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department 31 years ago, and now he is the new Hamel fire chief.
Fire Department members elected Ruchti to a three-year term on Monday, March 10. They also elected Neil Wolfe as assistant fire chief. Wolfe last year was elected assistant chief and interim fire chief after long-time chief Brandon Guest retired from the department.
Wolfe guided the department through a suspenseful year during which the city of Corcoran decided not to renew its contract with the Hamel Department. The Medina City Council closely watched the department’s performance. Under Wolfe the department improved its response times, number of firefighters turning out for calls, training for officers and firefighters and other performance aspects. The city liked the changes and, after about nine months, renewed its contract with the Hamel Fire Department.
Ruchti is a second-generation Hamel firefighter. His father Ernie served with the department for 28 years from 1974 to 28 years. Both father and son started as firefighters and rose to the rank of lieutenant. Son Jeff went on to serve a year as a captain and now wears the chief’s white helmet.
Jeff Ruchti has lived in Hamel since 1964. In his regular job he works as a service technician and manager for American Reprographics in St. Louis Park. He has spent 30 years doing servicing and problem solving for large format printers.
His volunteer career includes not only firefighter service but also, beginning in 1995, teaching snowmobile safety through the Hamel Sno Runners snowmobile club. For the Hamel Fire Department he has worked with the department’s charitable gambling program since 1997.
Ruchti and Susan have been married 13 years, and she knew what his life had been like as a firefighter and what to expect in the future, Ruchti said. Susan brought with her a ready-made family of three children, all of whom experienced their new dad’s career as they grew up. All three are Wayzata High School graduates.
Daughter Melissa Burns, 18, is studying law enforcement. She is a lieutenant in the Hennepin County Sheriff Explorer Program, in which she has been involved for four years. Her twin, Adam, is studying electrical engineering and nanotechnology in Seoul, South Korea. Their brother Joseph, 20, is a cook at a Perkins Restaurant in Plymouth.
Susan is a part-time office manager for a cardiologist and a part-time employee of Wayzata Public Schools. Her hobby is cake decorating.
Ruchti said about his election as fire chief: “It’s not about me. I believe in sharing responsibility. Everybody is part of the department. We are a team. There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”
His goal is “to be involved with our biggest asset, our firefighters and officers.”
“I want to give Hamel firefighters the education, tools and skill sets to keep them safe so they will want to come and fight fires and do medicals,” Ruchti said.
He talked about building a strong work ethic and a camaraderie amongst firefighters as new members join the department. Older firefighters could share their knowledge and experience with newcomers to help keep them safe. An important part of this is teaching newbies about the department’s heritage. He called the process “swapping war stories.”
“The city is growing by leaps and bounds,” Ruchti noted. “We have a lot more traffic, a lot more people and a lot of things going on. We have to grow with the city. Neighboring fire departments are a key to our growth.” Training together and sharing knowledge “will make us stronger.”
He added that the department always is looking for new firefighters. He said it’s a 24/7 part-time job. It’s a second family, a second job.
“You can’t do this half-way,” he said.
Ruchti noted that a banner in front of the Hamel Fire Department reads, “Do you have what it takes to fill these boots?”
Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]