As of 3 PM this afternoon, following a send-off ceremony with an audience of over 20-consisting of current and retired fire department personnel, fire service personnel from neighboring agencies, family members and city officials- the final chapter of Merrill Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Drury’s career spanning over three decades; came to a close.
During the ceremony, fellow MFD Battalion Chiefs Scott Krause and Steve Hintze spoke of Drury’s career, fond memories and most importantly, of Drury’s many accomplishments in his tenure with the department. Of those accomplishments include; promotion to the rank of Lieutenant in 2001, the rank of Captain in 2008 as well as over 20 years of advocacy for fire fighters as part of the PFFW (Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin and the International Association of Fire Fighters.
A Merrill native, Drury entered the fire service field fresh out of high school; attending Fox Valley Technical College’s Fire Protection Associate Degree program in the fall of 1983.
Drury credits his lifelong participation in the Boy Scouts for taking his first steps toward entering the field.
“I was involved in the boy scouts my whole life and my first exposure to the fire service field was through a boy scouts explorer post with Merrill Fire Department when I was about 16,” Drury explains.
“The more I learned, the more I considered becoming a fire fighter as a career option.”
Upon enrolling at FVTC, Drury soon found himself immersed in intense, hands-on fire training as his residence became the Grand Chute Fire Department.
“When our initial training was completed, I literally lived at the fire station. I attended classes during the day and accompanied staff on fire calls at night. Then the summer between my first and second year in the program, I completed EMT training. During the second year, we were given the option to be assigned to either the Appleton Fire Department or Oshkosh Fire Department, both being full time departments. Same as the first year, I attended school during the day at the Appleton Fire Department, then answered both fire and medical calls as part of a regular shift on nights and weekends.”
In April of 1985, Drury found his first full-time position with the Grand Chute Fire Department as a driver/operator. He graduated FVTC in May of 1985 and remained employed with GCFD until his selection by the Merrill Fire Department as a full-time Firefighter/EMT in March of 1986.
“It was nice to come back to my hometown as a full-time firefighter,” the 52-year old, father of two adds.
“I knew the city layout well in terms of streets and so on, so that was a plus. But one sort of drawback was the fact of knowing so many people. Responding to fire calls and car accidents in my hometown, I often times personally knew the people involved. That emotional aspect to the job of a Firefighter/EMT was a challenge.”
When asked of memorable moments of his career, Drury readily admits the difficulty in thinking back on 32 years of service. But a grin quickly spread across his face as he recalled the night at ‘Old Station 2’ on the city’s west side, when a bat made its way into the firehouse.
“One of the guys on-duty that night was absolutely terrified of bats…” he explains as the grin widens a bit.
“The rest of us had some fun with that….let’s leave it at that,” he says with a chuckle and a brief pause.
Another key event in his career Drury mentions is that of the transition from the former two-fire station operation, to consolidating to a brand new, central location in February of 2013.
“I think all of us would agree it was nice to have so much extra space compared to the other two stations, but from a department officer standpoint; it was nice to have my crew under one roof. Having guys at one station downtown and then another crew of guys on the west-side was a challenge in terms of management. On the flip side, our response time was slightly minimized. But it was different that’s for sure, it was the first time in the history of the department that we didn’t have two fire stations to operate out of.”
In terms of what Battalion Chief Mike Drury will miss most of his career, he quickly identifies the camaraderie of his peers.
“Fire fighting is a very unique profession in many ways,” he said.
“There aren’t many professions out there where you literally live and work with the same crew for 24 or what is now a 48-hour period. You live together, eat breakfast lunch and dinner together, train together and answer calls together. And most of all, you rely on each other. Your crew is literally your second family.
“I will miss the camaraderie hands down. After 32 years of the same routine; walking in to start your shift, saying hello to the guys, catching up on what’s new…I know there will be a void for me to fill. It will be tough…but I will have to find a way to fill that void.” he adds with a lowered tone.
As for the future, retirement will mean a rather significant and immediate change for Mike and his wife Sheila.
Tuesday, the couple will relocate to Fox Lake, Wis.
“Our daughters Haili and Cassi live in that area as well as our son in law Randy and granddaughter Berkley.”
Although Mike is quick to admit as of leaving the station today, his fire service career is done, he doesn’t rule out the idea of a return altogether.
“It’s easy to say that now, but I can’t say it’s out of the question completely,” he says with a chuckle.
“Fox Lake does have a volunteer department….so I don’t know, we’ll see I guess.”
As he exits his long, rich fire service career to the city of Merrill, Drury offers a few words of wisdom to his successor as Battalion Chief and to those entering the profession.
“The best advice I would give to the next Battalion Chief would be to never take anything for granted. Never stop learning and share as much knowledge as you can. As for advice to future fire fighters entering the field, I can’t help but remember the words of one of my fire instructors in school. His advice was to be seen and not heard, which basically translates to; keep your mouth shut and learn as much as you can,” he adds with a smile.