Ham Lake’s deputy fire chief retires

After 32 years with the Ham Lake Fire Department, Robert Ackermann has retired.

Rob Ackermann
Rob Ackermann

The deputy fire chief’s retirement became effective June 2, just three days after Ackermann retired from his full-time job at 3M.

Ackermann does not just plan on kicking up his feet and resting at his Ham Lake home, however.

He got his first paying job scraping walls before they were painted. He earned $1.50 an hour for this job as a 14-year-old and has not stopped working ever since. He never went to college. He was a self-taught electrician.

His next task will be working with 3M as an electrical consultant for a new 400,000-square-foot research and development building on 3M’s Maplewood campus.

With this contract running through the end of 2015, Ackermann said he would not have been able to devote time to responding to fires and medical calls in the community he has called home since 1978.

“I’m known as the firefighter (in Ham Lake), not for the 3M job that paid the bills,” Ackermann said.

With 32 years of experience with the Ham Lake Fire Department, Ackermann got to know a lot of residents.

One memorable story was the last house fire call he was on May 31. A woman’s home had started on fire after being struck by lightning. It turns out she knew Ackermann from a community CPR class he taught. Teaching CPR and first aid was one of Ackermann’s many tasks of being a firefighter.

There are some fire departments that respond to any type of medical call, even a cut finger or a broken arm, Ackermann said. Ham Lake only responds to calls where someone could be severely injured or if someone has a stroke or cardiac arrest.

Ackermann has seen some bad accidents on Highway 65. Handling a call where someone dies is the toughest part of the job for Ackermann. One of his worst memories was the death of a 3-year-old child. The peer support system that gives him the phone number of another firefighter to talk to who could relate to his situation is very helpful, Ackermann said.

On the flip side, helping to save a life is the best feeling. Ackermann is a big proponent of automated external defibrillators.

Ackermann grew up near a fire station in Spring Lake Park and eventually volunteered for the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department not long after he graduated from Irondale High School in 1971. He said he loved watching the trucks drive by his childhood home and thought it would be an interesting opportunity.

“Once I got involved, I fell in love with it,” Ackermann said.

When he started with SBM Fire Department in 1971, the first day of training was how to get dressed while riding around on the truck. None of the firefighters were allowed to stand on the back of the truck like some departments did back then, but getting dressed in a hurry was and is still one key element of being a good firefighter. The second day of training was how to roll out a fire hose. Before the day was over, Ackermann was one of four or five guys that were called to a car fire in Mounds View.

A rookie firefighter could never respond this early in their training to any call today, Ackermann said. The state of Minnesota in 2009 made it a requirement for all firefighters to be licensed before they can respond to an incident.

Ackermann and his family moved to Ham Lake in 1978 because they found a great home in their price range and were tired of renting.

He got the urge to go back to volunteer firefighting in 1982 after hearing a sermon from the pastor of the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake urging the congregation to use their talents and do what they were meant to do. Ackermann had attained the rank of captain in the SBM Fire Department before he moved to Ham Lake, so he had the talent to be a firefighter.

Ham Lake, like many other departments in the early 1980s, were transitioning to pagers. Ackermann was unaware of a house fire in his station’s coverage area of Ham Lake until he got home from work and listened to a message on an emergency radio that each firefighter got. With pagers, every firefighter immediately knows when a call is radioed in.

Ackermann will not miss getting woken up by his pager in the middle of the night. What he will miss is his fellow firefighters.

“My closest friends are all on the (Ham Lake) Fire Department. The firefighters are my extended family,” Ackermann said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]