Dave Lenzmeier, Fridley’s last paid on-call fire captain, has retired from the department after 33 years of service, but the job will always be in his blood.
“Fireman Dave” is how many schoolchildren refer to Dave Lenzmeier, who retired as Fridley’s last paid on-call fire captain earlier this year.
Lenzmeier led countless safety camps and classes during his 33 years with the department. He always wore his firefighting garb, and he knew how to make his talk entertaining. For starters, Lenzmeier would let the children hang on to the fire hose or practice crawling on the floor, where the “good air is.” “I tried to be methodical about what would happen,” he said, adding that the idea was to make the situation less intimidating. It seemed to work.
At the grocery store, children often will point him out to their parents, saying, “That’s him,” he said.
“It’s a good feeling, being able to share with people how to react in a fire or another emergency.” That’s what’s kept him in this kind of work for so long. Whether you’re talking to children, doing drills with firefighters or trying to rescue someone on the scene, firefighting “gets into your blood,” he said.
Lenzmeier, 62, was honored at a retirement party last week. We talked to him about some of the changes, highlights and rewards of the job. His résumé also includes a stint at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and service with the U.S. Navy.
Q: How did you get your start with the fire department?
A: In the Navy, everyone goes to fire school. …
When I got done with the Navy, I saw an ad in the newspaper about the department needing someone. So, I came over and started talking to people here.
It was an easy transition, with the same concepts, the teamwork.
Q: What was your favorite aspect of the job?
A: My personal favorite was working with the children at safety camps and classes, getting them comfortable with how I look and sound with all of the fire equipment on. So, in the case of a fire, if they ever heard my breathing through a respirator, they wouldn’t run away. They’d know to come to me, that I’d scoop them up, put them underneath my tummy, and we’d get out of there together. I tried to instill in them that the fireman is there to help. Also, I’d tell them to stay low and crawl, not stand up where the smoke is. The good air is on the ground. I’d tell them to make their mouth into a vacuum cleaner.
Q: What might be an example of one of your most challenging runs?
A: Once after an extreme storm, a creek got flowing and it washed out a trestle for the railroad. The train went nose first into the creek. The leaking fuel had to be contained so it wouldn’t get into the Mississippi River. Our role was to try to make sure we get the train crew out as safely as possible and mitigate any damage caused by leaking fuels. That was probably about 15 years ago.
Q: What is the most unusual call you’ve gotten?
A: You see everything, the goofiest things. People call because their cat is in a tree. Kids will put their heads through wrought-iron railings and get stuck. Sometimes people will accidentally spray dangerous chemicals on themselves. I’ve given people some very cold showers.