Merrill Fire Chief Bob Odegard has announced he will retire effective Dec. 31, 2012. Meeting as a Committee of the Whole Tuesday night, the city council considered his retirement and the process to hire a new chief.
Odegard, a Merrill native, started with the Merrill Fire Department in 1979. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2000, to deputy chief in 2004 and became chief in 2007.
“I was very honored to get this position,” he said. “It’s been an honor my whole career to serve the citizens of Merrill.”
Bob’s father had been a Merrill police officer for 27 years. When Bob saw there were openings with the fire department, he thought he’d give it a try. He found he liked the service that the fire department provides to the community.
“I really like helping people,” he said. “That’s the real reason you get into this profession. We help people in so many different ways. We get to help people that are having a really bad day. That’s a very rewarding thing.”
Over the years, Odegard has delivered babies, rescued children from burning buildings and brought patients back to life. A firefighter’s job isn’t all triumphs, however. “We deal with death a lot,” Odegard said.
Also, a firefighter’s work schedule isn’t always conducive to a normal family life.
“You miss a lot of your kids’ concerts and ballgames because of the schedule,” Odegard said.
Odegard has seen some big changes in the department over the past 30-some years. When he was hired, his training as a firefighter was all on the job. He went to school after he was hired to get basic EMT training. Now, paramedic level EMT training is a prerequisite to being hired by the Merrill Fire Department.
The function of a fire department has expanded and evolved over the years. Firefighters need to keep up on new techniques, be it vehicle extrication, high angle rescue or hazardous materials.
“Our training has really intensified a lot,” Odegard said. “We pride ourselves on being able to help in any situation.”
Having the NTC Emergency Services training facility in Merrill has been a big help in meeting the Merrill Fire Department’s ongoing training needs, Odegard said.
“The NTC training center has been a big plus,” he said. “We have gotten fantastic support from NTC.”
Odegard said one of the biggest issues facing the fire department in the future is the need for a new fire station facility. Studies have been done and options presented for a new facility, but no action has yet been taken on construction.