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Outgoing fire chief plans for retirement

Tim Pietsch.

There might be a few Monday nights over the next couple of months when Tim Pietsch gets in his car and heads to Farmington’s Fire Station No. 1. Habits are hard things to break, and for Pietsch, Monday night fire training has been a longtime habit.

That will change soon, though. After 32 years on the fire department, and more than nine as chief, Pietsch is about to have his Mondays free for the first time in a very long time.

Next week, Pietsch will hand over control of the department to Jim Larsen, Farmington’s first full-time fire chief. On May 11, he will retire from the department altogether.

“It’s time,” Pietsch said. “It’s time to open some new chapters and do some other things that have been on my list for some time.”

Pietsch grew up around the Farmington Fire Department. His uncles served as firefighters, and whenever Pietsch would hear the fire siren he would hop on his bike and chase the trucks to whatever call they were responding to. He’d watch in awe as they battled the flames.

When he was a young man, Pietsch and a friend at work talked about joining the department. They both agreed they would sign up. Pietsch followed through. His friend never did.

The idea back then was to make Farmington a better place and give something back to the community. But Pietsch said he got more out of his service than he ever put in.

“It was getting to meet all these people and watch my career progress to a level I never anticipated,” Pietsch said. “I’ve watched some young people come on the department and I’ve watched them mature and their families grow. It’s been unbelievable.”

Pietsch didn’t join the department with the idea of becoming chief. It was all just a natural progression. He wanted to do a good job as a firefighter, which led to him becoming a captain. He wanted to be prepared for that job, and that led him to become an assistant chief. When former fire chief Ken Kuchera stepped down, Pietsch was in a good position to take over.

It’s been a big job. As the department has grown, serving as fire chief has taken up a rapidly increasing chunk of Pietsch’s time. It meant making sacrifices at times, especially as he tried to balance responding to emergencies with family time.

There were times Pietsch’s fire pager would go off when he was on the way home from a school function. He’d have to drop his kids off in front of a TV at the fire station and go extinguish a fire or respond to a medical emergency.

“I think the biggest sacrifice that was made, my children can reflect on,” Pietsch said. “When the pager would go off, it always goes off at the most inopportune times. It might be a birthday party and I’d look at the kids and they’d say, ‘OK, Dad, you’ll be back.

“They’re the ones that I think probably saw the things that I did and they knew how much it meant to me. My wife and children, they allowed me to do that.”

Now, Pietsch knows it’s time to let someone else do the job. Things have changed a lot since he joined. Farmington has grown, and a department that saw 100 calls a year in 1982 now responds to more than 600. Training and certification rules have changed as well.

Pietsch applied for the full-time fire chief position. He was one of five finalists for the job, but not one of the final two candidates. He has talked with his successor a few times in recent weeks, and he expects the new chief will do a good job.

There are already some projects on Pietsch’s list now that he’s about to have a lot more free time. He’ll do some fishing and ride his motorcycle more. He’ll finally get to finish restoring a 1965 Chevy Impala convertible he bought when he was a teenager.

It won’t be easy to walk away, though.

“My wife says I’ll miss it, and I’ll be honest,” Pietsch said. “Mondays have always been dedicated to the fire hall, between training and officers’ meetings and rescue squad. Monday nights are going to be hard, because that’s been ingrained in me for 32 years.”

If you see him driving past the fire station some Monday night, you’ll know why.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606