St. Michael Fire Department mirrors city’s legacy

100th Anniversary Celebration planned Sept. 23
By Aaron Brom
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Looking at the list of St. Michael firefighters from the 1930s to 1950s, the names stand out as a testament to St. Michael’s past and present: Zachman, Dick, Duerr, Daleiden, Barbeln, Kilian, Barthel, Berning, Schumm, Jaeb, Eull, Vetsch, Gutzwiller, Steffens, Robeck, Roden, Lenz, Dehmer, Zahler, Hackenmueller and Welter.

A lot of St. Michael-area lifers recognize these names as pillars in the community, and what each name has in common are descendants today who still live in the area, and in many cases still serve the fire department.

That says something about the commitment that St. Michael Fire Department members made to the community back then, and equally today, as the department is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

DEHMERS

The current department’s longest serving member is lifelong resident Gordy Dehmer, who has been with St. Michael Fire for 34 years.

He is one of many Dehmers to serve the department today and in the past, including his father Leroy (retired, 34 years service) as well as brother, Earl (22 years), and even his great uncle Oscar Dehmer served the department for 38 years.

Due to a long ago fire, many old records from the earliest days of the department were destroyed.

But thanks to a memorial bell celebrating all retired members who served 10 years or more, we know that R.A. Zachmann was oldest known chief, having served in that capacity from 1931 to 1934.

Boy Daleiden took over from 1934 to 1939, and Albin Duerr from 1939 to 1949.

Allen Jaeb was as chief for 15 years, from 1949 to 1964. Clarence Gutzwiller then served from 1964 to 1969, Leroy Dehmer from 1969 to 1972, and Carl Welter from 1972 to 1974.

The longest-serving non-chiefs on that bell plaque are Oscar Dehmer and Leon Killian, who served the exact same term, 38 years from 1931 to 1969.

Surprisingly, in Gordy Dehmer’s long career, he’s only served four chiefs, beginning with Jim Eull, then Charlie Thompson and Daryl Hackenmueller, before Thompson came back.

Dehmer himself was interim chief before current chief Steve Hosch took over about 10 years ago.

Dehmer said much has changed since his first days as a firefighter in the early 1980s.

“There are a lot more people here of course, which means more medical emergencies and more crashes due to traffic,” he said. “When I first started there was no such thing as blood-borne pathogens, or hazardous materials, or active shooters. Now we’re expected to be experts on everything.”

And that includes mandatory safety classes, as well as training.

Fire fighting doesn’t only run in his family, but is his family’s business. Dehmer is current owner of Dehmer Fire Protection, a company his father started in 1959.

“The biggest change today is the training,” Dehmer said. “A lot things we were told never to do back then, we’re doing today.”

He also said the sheer numbers of calls have sky rocketed from under 100 per year when he started to more than 350 today.

HACKENMUELLERS

Another prominent name on the 10-year service bell is Hackenmueller, with Clarence, Vernon, James, Douglas and Daryl on the list.

Jim Hackenmueller, who served from 1969 to 1989, remembers the days where firefighters would get the call and head straight to the scene.

“Even if you had your suit on, you’d have to wear it. I remember going through a lot of shoes that you’d ruin,” he said.

Hackenmueller said that, back in those days, there were “fire phones” that 10 or so department members had, and would ring at the same time if there was a fire call.

“Now you have to go to the fire department and get dressed up in gear before you go out,” he said.

Hackenmueller said the most common call back in those days was for barn fires. He also recalled a huge fire at the Medina Ballroom.

Hackenmueller’s wife, Sharon, also said the firefighters would respond to annual flooding.
“Every spring they went down to the (Crow River) millside quite a few times when canoers would go over the old dam,” she said. “They saved quite a few lives.”

“It was pretty hectic!” Jim added. “We had to make due with what we had, which wasn’t much.”

KILIANS

Another prominent surname on the 10-year bell is Kilian, begnining with Marcellus (Celly) Kilian, who served from 1944 to 1956.

Other Kilians on the list include Leon, Carroll and Jeffrey.

Celly Kilian is 95 years old, and wife Marilyn said she remembers plenty of fire calls and good-natured fun among the St. Michael Fire brotherhood.

“There was an old store in town called Halliger’s,” Marilyn recalled. “There was a big fire there, just like that it went up in smoke.”

Celly, she said, was an electrician by trade and was quite accustomed to ladders, so much so he still climbed them well into his 90s.

“One day there was a fire in our neighborhood and Celly was up there cleaning the roof. One of the firemen shouted, ‘Hey Marcellus get off that damn roof!’ He just would not give up going on those ladders.”

CELEBRATION

Though the department’s charter has stayed the same with 30 members, Gordy Dehmer said the difference is the department today has reserve members and an administrative assistant.

With so many firefighters having served with St. Michael Fire, Dehmer wanted to be sure to invite all and their families to the department’s free 100th Anniversary event taking place Saturday, Sept. 23, from 3 to 11:30 p.m. at the Daze & Knights Fest Grounds (Town Center and Edgewood Drive).

Music is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. including a live broadcast from BOB 106 radio station. Area musician Blake Duncan will sing at 4:30 p.m., followed by the band Short on Cash from 6-8 p.m. Closing is Hitchville, who take the stage from perform from 9 p.m. to midnight.