Selfless service for 100-plus years

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Ben Grimmius and Butch Sierck, with a combined 100-plus years of service with the Spencer Fire Department, will be ending their careers this month.
Photo by Joseph Hopper

2 longtime firefighters to retire at month’s end

The Spencer Fire Department will be losing two of its longest serving firefighters to retirement at the end of June. Ben Grimmius and Butch Sierck have served Spencer, and the surrounding areas, for more than a combined 100 years since 1969 and 1961 respectively.

“I came on when my neighbor was on the Fire Department,” Grimmius said. “He was over one time, and we were sitting, having a Pepsi out on the back steps and had a fire call downtown. So, we took off and went to it. Then I became interested, and he said, ‘Why don’t you sign up?’”

“The day I got on was the day the country club out there burned,” Sierck said. “I worked for the dairy, so I went out and got the tank truck and started hauling water because at that time there were no hydrants in that area. I picked up the hydrant down by the Moose (Lodge) and hauled out there. After we got all done, they said, ‘You’ve done such a good job we’re just going to put you on the Fire Department.’ That’s where I’ve been ever since.

“When I started we had a ‘58 Chevrolet, a ‘59 Ford which belonged to the townships, and a ‘49 Seagrave which we still have but don’t use anymore,” Sierck continued. “When I started, we took care of Spencer, went from the Dickens blacktop to Cornbelt Power, from the county line to the Sioux Valley road 4 miles south. We took care of that whole area, plus Spencer, and we had 18 guys.”

While the two still have their sharpened firefighting skills, their age has prevented them from fighting fires directly on the front lines.

“I’ve enjoyed all the time here,” Grimmius said. “I tell the guys that are here now, there is no use going on drugs because if you want a high, just go into a fire that’s burning really good and put the fire out. It’s a different feeling. It’s a great feeling. If you can’t go into a fire, it just isn’t the same anymore.

“As the guys are in the fire doing things, you can sit down here and listen to them on the radio and know exactly what’s going on,” Grimmius continued. “You don’t even have to close your eyes because you can see it in your mind what they’re doing. You know exactly what’s going on because we’ve been in it long enough that we can pretty well tell.”

Over the course of five decades, the two witnessed many major changes to the community and department, including a new firehouse, an end to house burning, an increase in female firefighters and new advances in technology.

“When I started, we had four trucks and one radio. It was hooked up with the Police Department,” Sierck said. “We didn’t have our own frequency like we have now. Now we have radios in our own truck besides our walkie talkies. It used to be at your house the phone rings. You had to pick it up and dial a number back to the fire station and find out where the call was. It only took 10 calls at once. If you didn’t get on the first 10, you waited until somebody got off and then you could get back in. Now when we went to the radios, you leave right from home and know right where to start with.

“The most fun we had is when we’d burn a house,” Sierck continued. “Get it going good, crawl on the floor and watch it.”

“I think the largest change that came for this department is when we (moved to the new location),” Grimmius said. “Now we can have more people for practices and stuff like that.”

The two defined “firefighter” as helping others and family.

“The main thing is helping the general public safetywise,” Grimmius said. “Getting somebody out and saving their house, or getting people out of the house or out of a car accident and helping them. That’s a lot of gratitude doing that. It makes you feel good. But for everyone you lose in an accident or anything like that, there’s a lot of them that you save, and that’s what you have to think about — the ones that you save, not the ones that you lose.”

Both men reflected on how life will change following their impeding retirements from the department.

“I will miss when then whistle goes off and hearing the sirens going,” Sierck said.

“I’ll miss wondering what’s going on,” Grimmius said. “Retirement will be the same as now except you just sit at home instead of coming here on Thursday nights.”

“We’re used to coming down here Thursday nights for 50 years,” Sierck added.

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