On Aug. 13, Captain Robert Akey will walk out the door of the Merrill Fire Station for the last time after a 34 year career with the City of Merrill.
Akey started his career as a patrol officer with the Merrill Police Department. After five years with the PD, he returned to the private sector for two and a half years. Bob’s final calling to public service came in January 1987 when he became a firefighter/EMT with the Merrill Fire Department. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2008 and then to captain in 2010.
Captain Akey has contributed in many ways to the citizens of Merrill. Just five days before his final shift begins, Fire Chief Dave Savone received a copy of a text message Bob received:
“Bob, I remember you from school; you were a year or two ahead of me. You were one of the nice guys. My name is Mark, and last Friday evening you, and two other EMT’s answered a call to my brother. That night you saved my brother’s life, I cannot express my gratitude, and thanks in words. It may be all in a day’s work for you guys, but the impact of your profession is profound. It makes me proud to say I’m from Merrill. My brother has a long road ahead of him, and progresses each day slowly. Again thank you, please thank Scott and Ross for me. You chose a proud profession. I think you’ll be hearing from my family in the near future. God Bless Always Mark”
This text message is a reminder of the service Akey has given to this family and to all the families of the community; whether he is performing CPR on someone’s brother or being the Incident Commander at a large structure fire like the Northern Wire fire last month. The job of firefighter can make a profound and ever lasting effect on people, their families, their possessions and their businesses.
Random Reflections from Captain Akey on his career:
“Whether Police Officer or Firefighter, you find out that bad things happen to some really good people. As a Firefighter/EMT working the Merrill Fire Dept. ambulance, you get to see the effects of different incidents on people. As a Police Officer, extinguishing fires with a portable extinguisher peaked my interest in becoming a Merrill Firefighter.
“One memory that really stood out was the Woodcraft Finishing Fire, just west and north of the 6th Ward Bridges. I remember the firefighter standing atop the 100-foot aerial truck spraying water on the fire and having 55 gallon drums exploding and flying through the air; kind of like watching the fireworks.
“The tornado in 2011 made you realize how bad things can really happen to you and people you serve. Nothing was touched responding from home, it was hard to believe that you were being called in to work. Thankfully in all that damage no one was killed or seriously injured.
“There have been structure fires at homes and businesses of people you know or worked with through the hospital. There have also been accidents involving my co-workers’ families.
“At the firehouse we are like a family, because of that when the alarm sounds you work as a team. I appreciate the past and present members of the Merrill Fire Department. Over the 27-plus years I would like to thank all the members who helped me and made things easier for me.
“Trying to remember back, I think about the difference in apparatus. Part of our testing process for the Merrill Fire Department was climbing a 100-foot wobbly aerial ladder that drifted in the breeze. You wore a belt with safety ropes attached, probably more for participants’ psychological well-being. The more you weighed and the higher the wind speed, the more it affected your wobble factor. Today’s 85-foot aerial ladder is like climbing a staircase, sturdy with confines of a bucket that you are safety belted into.
“All of the guys with approximately the same amount of years on the job can remember the advancements of the computer. All I can say to make it short is Control “S.” Save your work. Today’s smart phones do 10 times more than what the early computers did.
“Thermal Imaging Cameras, what a tool for us today. Years ago entering a burning building you looked for the red stuff through all the black smoke and sprayed wet stuff on the red stuff. Sometimes you guessed right and sometimes you kept searching. Today’s Thermal Imaging Cameras allow you to find the red stuff early and extinguish the fire to minimize the loss, with minimal water damage.
“Emergency Medical Response has always been my favorite part of the job. Good people – doctors, nurses and teachers – gave me that early education. Dr. Earling Ravn, Kay Slewitzke, Sue Ellerman, Dr. Janowiak, Heidi Duley to name just a few of the people who helped me serve the people of southern Lincoln County and the City of Merrill.
“I know some people were skipped: Thank you to all who helped me on this 27-plus year journey. Through the good and bad times a Big “Thank You.” The biggest “Thank You” goes to my wife Karen for helping me raise some great kids and for helping me through some ups and downs.
During his 27 years of service to the fire department Akey has witnessed and been a part of many changes within Merrill Fire Department and the community of Merrill. He has worked for five different fire chiefs and with 49 different firefighters. When asked what his plans for the futures were, Captain Akey smiled and replied, he and Karen are staying in town and he is looking forward to enjoying life to its fullest. “Bob is a respected officer within the Fire Department and has given a lot to this community through his career and personal time while helping others,” said Chief Savone. “He will be missed.”