KALIDA — If you ever wonder how much of the work of a volunteer firefighter is “volunteer” vs. fireman, just listen to Dick Schulte’s ringtone.
It sounds like the horn on a firetruck.
The veteran for the Kalida Volunteer Fire Department will hear a little less of that horn, or at least he’ll hear it from a different perspective. After 50 years, the 75-year-old Schulte hung his No. 18 fire helmet and insulated jacket the last time after driving the Brush 77 truck from a scene. Last week, he stepped down from the active roster to the “active honorary reserve,” where he can help with parades and cleaning up equipment after a run.
“I didn’t want to run into that situation where I’d have to go in a house fire. If I had to go, I’d go,” Schulte said. “At my age, I don’t think that was probably the proper thing to do. Maybe some of the younger generation says, ‘Old man, when you getting off? When you retiring?’ A lot of times it was just a joke. ”
He said 50 years of service had a nice sound to it when he starting thinking about retiring from the fire department. He and his wife, Jane, also update a wall full of photos of past trucks at the department along with a list of active and honorary members and their years of service. As the historian, Dick Schulte also knows he’s a part of history, as the longest-serving firefighter in the village’s history.
He thought he’d have to leave 10 years ago, when he damaged his left eye in an accident while helping repair a neighbor’s garage door, but his doctor cleared him to return to duty. He also survived a bout with COVID-19 around Thanksgiving.
His dedication was hard to beat, said Kalida Fire Chief Dale Schulte, who is also Dick’s nephew. They never knew when they might be called away from a family dinner.
“We’d watch him run off whenever the pager went off,” Dale Schulte said. “Back then, when the whistle blew, he took off. It was kind of neat growing up and seeing that. Now to get to be the chief when he retired, that’s pretty special.”
That commitment inspired nearly a dozen relatives to join Putnam County departments, including a grandson at the Ottoville department.
Becoming a firefighter was all Dick Schulte wanted to do after seeing volunteer firefighters rush to a fire at a neighbor’s barn as a boy. A neighbor’s steer barn caught fire when he was 13 or 14 years old.
“All these fire departments were coming in and actually saved the barn. A bunch of neighbors got together and got hay and straw out of the mound so they could continue fighting the fire that was embedded in the straw. Seeing what these guys did in the past, that’s a hell of a job, saving barns.”
He finally joined the department when he was 25 in 1971, after he moved into town and met the department’s residency requirement.
Times and technology have changed over those 50 years. He recalled having to receive telephone calls in the house to notify him of a fire. In his younger days, he’d run the few blocks from his house to the fire department. There are fewer fires today and more emphasis on fire safety. The protective equipment is certainly one major change, he said.
“When I first got on, we started off with like, how would you call it, a rubber rainsuit, you might’ve called it,” Schulte said. “Then we upgraded to a little better jacket. Helmets got a little bit better. We used to have old plastic helmets. Helmets got better.”
There was also a push for self-contained breathing apparatus, to keep from inhaling smoke.
“Very few (self-contained breathing apparatus) when I first got on,” he said. “It seemed like the younger generation is the one that jumped into that SCBA. We put a lot of fires out without SCBA, but then again people’s health got involved with it. You think about the all stuff with health and cancer stuff today, they really preach, ‘Watch your safety equipment.’”
Schulte will continue making runs with Kalida’s EMS crew, which he joined when it formed in 1974. He’d worked at General Motors for 40 years before retiring from there. He also spent 32 years on Kalida’s village council and continues to help out at the village’s parks.
He said he’ll miss the camaraderie with other fire departments on the scene, but he’s happy he’ll be able to continue helping out around Kalida’s firehouse on Broad Street.
“It seemed like probably the first 25 years seemed like the longest coming. I happened to get 25 and kept progressing. You set goals and standards. Sometimes you reach your goals. Sometimes you don’t. That’s life,” he said, laughing.