After nearly three decades of serving the community, longtime Evansville Fire Department battalion chief Dan Grimm turned in his radio and keys, signaling the beginning of his retirement. Grimm is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and grandchildren but, for the first time, he had the opportunity to view the raw footage from a career-defining fire: the blaze at Ziemer’s Funeral Home in June 1994.
Much like he’s done for the past 17 years, Grimm, 62, walked into the Evansville Fire Department’s administration building Monday morning. This time, however, he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt — a far cry from his usual fire chief attire.
It was his first day of retirement.
“Here are some things that belong to the department. Here’s my charger, radio and, last but not least, the keys to the vehicle,” Grimm told Chief Mike Connelly. “It’s time for the next chapter.”
Grimm earned a handshake and a congratulations from his boss, which provided a glimpse into the mutual respect the two have for one another. For more than 28 years, Grimm has called EFD home.
He’s been the chief administrative officer for the past 17 years. He’s also been the public face of the fire department — the public information officer — during that period. While Grimm has served in many roles, including fire suppression chief and chief fire marshal, being PIO has been Grimm’s favorite role, he said.
Twenty-eight years in the fire service is a long time, but even a career as long as that one has a couple of career-defining moments. One of those moments occurred June 8th, 1994.
“I was on Engine #3 at the time. We were stationed at Franklin and Fulton,” Grimm said. “I can still see the details because it was like somebody turned on the light from the bright orange fire.”
Grimm and other firefighters were dispatched to a worker fire at Ziemer’s Funeral Home on First Avenue. A small group of firefighters, Grimm included, were on the second floor trying to find the source of the fire. A door leading up to the attic was opened, sending a rush of fire-fueling oxygen into the attack, causing the fire to ‘flash over’ in a matter of seconds.
The flash over caused an explosion of sorts. Windows shattered, sending shards of glass raining down on the street below.
“Once this got started, there was no way of stopping it,” Grimm said.
The group of firefighters tried to rush down the double set of stairs. They tripped over one another as the giant fireball caused first, second and third degree burns to the firefighters. Once they ran out the front door, other firefighters sprayed them down with hoses. Grimm had second degree burns to his ears, the sides of his face and neck.
The fire brought major changes to EFD policy in terms of what equipment firefighters are required to wear while at fire scenes.
“I’ve been so fortunate that I really haven’t been hurt at any other fire scenes. This was the worst that I got hurt,” Grimm said. “I had three weeks on light duty but that was nothing compared to Captain Wilcox, who was in the hospital for months.”
Captain Wilcox, coincidentally, is whom Grimm credits for getting him interested in the fire service. Back in 1988, Grimm was a retail sales representative for FireMaster in Evansville. The following year, Grimm went from ‘selling fire’ to fighting it.
“I passed the test and I guess the rest is history. I guess I owe my whole career to Wilcox,” Grimm said. “You’ve got two families. You have your family at home and you have your family at the fire station.”
Grimm’s career has had its fair share of triumphs and tragedies, he said.
“I’d say I’ve had a good career. I feel that I’ve at least made a difference in two people’s lives because they’re [alive],” Grimm said. “Unfortunately, there were some that we could never help.”
Sitting across from a laptop playing the sights and sounds of that June day in 1994, Grimm pointed out former colleagues that have since retired. Then he saw Larry Chapman.
“He just died last week. He was a very good friend of mine,” Grimm said. Chapman was one of Grimm’s best friends on the department. Chapman received liver and kidney transplants in 2016 and was laid to rest on Friday.
Grimm said he’s retiring after 28 years of service in order to spend more time with his wife and five grandchildren. His grandchildren have become quite active in youth sports.
“I may take a few little weekend trips with my wife and maybe the grandchildren. It’s time for someone else to come along. It’s time to pass the torch,” Grimm said. “By coincidence, [the department] actually has a new recruit class starting today. Seven a.m. is when the new recruits started. I guess my departing because it allowed someone else to come in and have a shot at their career.”
Grimm’s last day made someone else’s first day. Perhaps it’s fitting for a public servant.