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Firefighter finishes 40 years of service to NRFD

Henry Schmidt

For the past 40 years, Henry Schmidt has helped fight most of the fires in the area.

Now Schmidt, 65, is hanging up his firefighter boots and heading into retirement.

Schmidt, assistant fire chief of the New Richmond Fire Department, began his volunteer career in 1970 at the age of 25.

"I don't really know why I joined," Schmidt said. "It wasn't to save the world or anything like that. I just thought it looked like it could be enjoyable."

When he joined the department, there were about 20 volunteer firefighters on the roster. Today there are 35 firefighters with a full-time fire chief.

In 1970, the department had a couple pumpers and a small tanker to fight fires.

"And we had an old, made-up ladder truck that was pulled by a pick-up truck," he recalled.

Today, the department is bursting at the seams with three pumper trucks, a ladder truck, a couple tankers, a Freightliner, several brush trucks for grass fires and a chief's vehicle.

When he started as a firefighter, Schmidt said, the new volunteers were trained on-the-job by more experienced department members.

"Schooling really didn't start until the late 1970s or early 1980s," he said. "Now the schooling is endless."

But even though it has been a lot of hard work for little pay, Schmidt said he's found his role on the fire department fulfilling.

An employee of Bosch-Doboy for many years, Schmidt said he prided himself on his response rate to local fires. He estimated that he helped out on some 80 percent of the fire calls over the years.

"I still remember a lot of the fires," he said. "They stick in the back of my head. Each fire was a little different."

Schmidt said through the years he's limited the length of his vacations and trips to fulfill his duties as a firefighter.

"I always felt that I made a commitment to being here in case I was needed," he said. "Somebody had to do it, but not everybody was going to do it. I always enjoyed serving the community. Sometimes it wasn't very rewarding, but other times it was rewarding."

Now that he's retired, Schmidt said he'll be able to stay at his cabin up north for longer periods of time. He'll even find more time to fish with his grandchildren or hunt and to attend his grandchildren's sports events.

"I'm sure I'm going to miss it sometimes," he said. "Anything you enjoy doing, if you walk away from it you end up missing it. But that's what retirement is all about -- moving on to the next step. It was time. I can still do it, but it is a younger man's job."

Schmidt said after fighting one particular fire last year, he knew it was time to move on. He realized that it was the second time in 40 years that he's fought a fire at the same home.

"And it's still standing," he joked.

An open house has been scheduled for Friday, June 4, beginning at 4 p.m. to honor Schmidt's long career on the fire department. A program to thank Schmidt for his service to the community will be conducted around 6 p.m. The event will be held at the American Legion Hall, across from the Armory on Wall Street.

Schmidt and his wife Gloria have two grown sons. Mike is a firefighter for the New Richmond Fire Department and Brian is a member of the Hudson Fire Department. The Schmidts have five grandchildren.