Hanging up the fire gear
LE MARS — Mark Garnatz was a member of the Le Mars Fire-Rescue Department for 24 years until a job change made it necessary to retire from the department in May 2018.
Garnatz was honored at the Le Mars Fire and Rescue Department’s annual banquet at Willow Creek Golf Course and Banquet Hall, on Saturday, April 6.
At the banquet, Le Mars Fire-Rescue Chief David Schipper told the crowd Garnatz joined the department in October 1994.
“He is a certified National Firefighter I and Firefighter II, Emergency Medical Technician, Hazardous Materials Operations, and Confined Space Rescue Operations. He was awarded Firefighter of the Year in 1996,” Schipper said.
Garnatz served the Le Mars Fire-Rescue in several capacities, including firefighter and treasurer. He was also involved on several committees.
“Mark was considered the resident firehouse cook and assisted with cooking several meals for our annual water fights, different trainings, and of course fire conventions,” he said.
“We thank Mark for his 24 years of dedication and we also thank his wife and family for sharing Mark with us,” Schipper said.
To Garnatz he said, “Mark, you have retired from one of the most dangerous and demanding services and you can be proud of your accomplishments.”
Garnatz later said it was because of a new job in Des Moines with MidAmerican Energy that he needed to retire from the fire-rescue department.
“I was planning on trying to make it to 30 or 35 years,” Garnatz said.
While the family still lives in Le Mars, he said the decision to retire was the right thing to do for the department.
“I’m gone all week. I can’t make it to trainings, I can’t make it to calls during the week. It’s not fair to the other guys during the week. To me, it was the fair thing to do,” he said. “I could still help out on weekends, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Garnatz previously worked for a cellular company, and got his first taste of firefighting with the Eau Claire Township fire department in Wisconsin.
“They were looking for members and I was only four blocks from the station,” he said.
A job transfer brought him back to Le Mars.
“It wasn’t too long after I was back in Le Mars, and I talked with (fire chief) Wayne Schipper,” he said. “I had the great pleasure of working with Wayne and now David. It was good.”
There were several things he liked about being part of the fire-rescue department.
“Just being able to help the community,” he said. “It’s like a second family. You get to know a lot of people. You get to see a lot of people come on (the department). Especially the younger ones. You get to know them, you get to see their families grow up and be a part of the community. You see people mature, move on, move back. Plus at the time, it was a good way to get to know people in the community.”
Garnatz said being able to help the community in certain times was important to him.
He was also on a hurricane disaster team for his employer, something he also enjoyed.
Garnatz said he became known as the “fire house cook” after volunteering to cook for the department one time.
“I cooked, they liked it, and all of a sudden they were asking me more and more and more, so yeah, I did it all the time. And then when they were doing water fights, people changed, left, and I started doing that, too,” he said.
Garnatz said he and his wife, Lisa, cook together at home. Their two daughters, Kara, 13, and Kalli, 8, also enjoy being in the kitchen with their parents. He had also cooked for several years at the Sportsman’s Club as well.
His work as a firefighter has impacted his own life and how he approaches things.
“It’s made me realize that things can be taken in an instant to where you can be driving along, and all of a sudden, somebody can pull out in front of you and have an accident, and you’re either here or you’re gone,” he said.
Asked how he copes with the things he sees while on call, Garnatz calls himself “one of the fortunate ones.”
“I could go to a bad accident and if I had to, I’d either talk to my wife or to someone else. I never had any issues with bad dreams, having thoughts haunt me, like some people say. I’ve always been able to deal with it really well,” Garnatz said. “Sometimes people talk to me, I can listen and I can relate. I’ve learned to deal with what I’ve seen. It affects everyone differently.”
“In talking with my wife, she’s an RN, that helps. She understands some things,” he added.
Garnatz said he misses the calls, misses being able to be there and talk to the guys, the training, and keeping up-to-date on things.
“Even as long as I’ve been on, I still pick up new things,” he said. “I will just miss the all-around camaraderie with everybody.”
He said he was the guy who filled in where ever he was needed on a call, from running one of the trucks to directing traffic.
His family will miss taking rides on Wetspot, the antique fire truck. Garnatz and Steve Ahrendsen are the proud owners of the truck now, having purchased it from three other retired firefighters.
He said his family will miss Le Mars and all its community activities.
“I like how the community comes together. That’s what’s great about small towns,” he said.