Keokuk, IA – Jason Parrott's guest is former Keokuk Fire Chief Mark Wessel, who is stepping down after 35 years with the department.
Wessel says he did not start out wanting to be a firefighter.
He got his start in the grocery business.
Wessel says he got out of that line of work after being involved in an armed robbery.
He says he decided to take the test to become a firefighter and never looked back.
Wessel says firefighting is so much different than what Hollywood makes people believe.
He says you cannot simply run into a fire, alone, because of the heat, smoke, and toxic fumes.
Wessel says extensive training has been a staple of his department.
He says a focus is on teamwork, to make sure everyone involved knows what is going on.
Wessel says he decided, early on, that he liked both the front-line and the administrative aspects of the job. He says that is why he sought to become the head of the department.
Wessel says over his 35 years, he has had some wonderful days and some horrible days.
He says, most notably, the Dec. 22, 1999 residential fire that resulted in the deaths of three children and three firefighters.
Wessel says it took several years for the department to recover from the tragedy, but he says the subsequent changes have made Keokuk's force much better.
He says he is looking forward to spending more time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and teaching fire service classes.