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Fire chief's last call

Bill Hahn retiring after 43 years with Dallas Fire

Bill Hahn, Dallas Fire’s chief since 2007, will step down next week when a new chief takes over the agency.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Bill Hahn, Dallas Fire’s chief since 2007, will step down next week when a new chief takes over the agency.

December 03, 2013

DALLAS — Soon-to-be retiring Dallas Fire Chief Bill Hahn's fascination with firefighting started early.

Growing up in Stayton, Hahn, 66, was impressed how business owners who were volunteer firefighters would rush from their stores or barbershops at a moment's notice to help people.

"They would run across the street, open up the doors, jump on the fire truck and zip down the street, responding to calls," he said.

Later, during his high school years in Albany, he would often watch as crews battled blazes, leading his father to worry he might be getting in the way of their important job.

Once, during a large cannery fire, Hahn did find a way to help. But later that night when his father questioned him about where he had been, he didn't exactly tell the truth.

"On the front page of the Democrat-Herald that next day, it showed me helping a firefighter move a hose," Hahn said smiling, "so I was kind of busted then."

And hooked.

He remembers his first call after joining Dallas' fire department as a volunteer in 1970. It was on Westwood Drive, a carport on fire. This was no typical fire, though. The owner had been hoarding gasoline in 50-gallon drums, which ignited into an intense blaze.

"I was amazed by how the others guys went in and put it out so quickly," Hahn recalled of his rookie experience. "I just stood there, amazed."

After 43 years as a firefighter, Hahn this week will be going out on the final calls of what has been a fulfilling career. He will step down as chief Monday, when new fire chief Fred Hertel officially takes over, but will stick around for a few weeks to help with the transition.

The name plate outside Dallas Fire Chief Bill Hahn’s office will change next week when new chief Fred Hertel takes over. Hahn will help with the transition for a few weeks.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

The name plate outside Dallas Fire Chief Bill Hahn’s office will change next week when new chief Fred Hertel takes over. Hahn will help with the transition for a few weeks.

Hahn said he will miss the routine he's carried on for decades.

"I love it all," Hahn said. "I don't ever think there was a day when I got up and said 'I don't want to be here.' The thing that made it the best - and the thing that made it remarkable since becoming chief — is the people we have here who support us and work with us, donating their time."

Until 1983, Hahn was one of those volunteers. That year, he was hired as Dallas' fire inspector. Then in 1989, he was promoted to fire marshal and seven years later to assistant chief-fire marshal. In 2007, he achieved his ultimate career goal of becoming chief.

With that much experience, Hahn has seen incredible action — some tragic, some simply memorable.

In 1987, during the department's drill night, the station got a call from the Praegitzer property off Monmouth Cutoff Road. There had been numerous false alarms from the building in recent weeks, so when Hahn and the assistant chief jumped in a truck to check it out, they expected it to be nothing. "When we turned the corner onto Monmouth Cutoff, we could see the smoke and flames coming from the top of the roof, we knew that we were going to be in trouble," he said.

An immersion heater - similar to those used in aquariums - ignited a chemical vat. The fire quickly spread through ventilation ducts. Firefighters had to trudge through a unknown variety of chemicals to battle the fire and find the cause.

"For weeks we joked with each other about glowing in the dark," Hahn said.

Then, there were the calls no firefighter wants to respond to.

Hahn can remember arriving on the scene of a car accident near Rickreall involving a mother and her two children. The children were of similar ages to his own daughters at the time.

"They were all killed, so it was pretty dramatic," Hahn said "There are calls from time to time that bring back memories that are not always pleasant."

Those devastating fires and fatal accidents are much less frequent now, thanks to better cars, building codes, education, training and equipment, Hahn said.

However, Dallas still has its challenges. Not the least of them is the loss of the department's training facility.

"Training is a key component to keeping volunteers both interested and safe when doing their job," he said.

Also a concern is the dwindling volunteer ranks as more workers commute to jobs out of town.

"That is the biggest obstacle were are facing right now," Hahn said. "We have to count on our staff to respond during the daytime."

Dallas and other departments in the area depend heavily on mutual aid agreements with other agencies for backup on major calls.

"Then we kind of cross our fingers and hope that we don't have calls at the same time," he said.

After the end of this month, however, he will be filling his days with concerns of quite a different nature: golf, restoring an old Ford pickup -- and most importantly, spending time with family.

"Giving time to them is probably the most important thing," Hahn said. "As the girls grew up, my wife was probably the key parent because I spent the majority of my time contributing to Dallas Fire. I have a lot of making up to do for my kids."

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