ELSIE — Assistant Chief Dan Chapko, who is retiring from the Elsie Area Fire Department after 25 years, doesn’t sound likely to stay idle for long.
“I’d like to finish up my schooling, get some certifications and maybe become an instructor,” Chapko said of his plans. “It would be great to get people involved and educated.”
Chapko, 52, who attended Ovid-Elsie schools, is also a member of Ashley’s fire/rescue team. Though he’s leaving the Elsie department Jan. 1, he hasn’t yet made a decision on whether to leave that position.
But even if he leaves that position, he has plenty of other things to keep him busy.
“I’m a heavy equipment operator for one of the local gravel pits,” Chapko noted. “I’ve been doing that for 19 years. We owned our own dairy farm until 2005, then we sold out. We still have all the property and homestead. Maybe one of these days, we’ll get back in it.”
When Chapko first joined the Elsie Fire Department, he remembers being interviewed by the newspaper for the first time.
“I still have pictures from The Argus-Press the first time they did a county-wide fire department story,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years.”
Chapko said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family. He knows the department is in good hands, but wants his fellow firefighters to know he’s only a call away.
“The wife and I would like to get a place on a lake, spend some time fishing and traveling,” Chapko said. “Spend some time with the grand kids. People tell me all the time that I’m not retiring, but I really am. If something happens, they have my number and they know where I am.”
The thing that he’s most proud of is never losing a firefighter he was with, and always getting his crews home safely to their families.
“Our biggest motto is, ‘We show up together and we go home together,’” Chapko explained. “I wasn’t ever going to be the one who knocked on a wife’s door to tell her her husband wasn’t coming home.”
Two of Chapko’s sons — and a daughter — are former members of the Elsie Area Fire Department. His daughter was the first woman to graduate the fire academy and become a member of the department. She is currently a paramedic for a Flint company.
“I have grandkids now,” he added. “I’ve been married 31 years to Vicky. There was a ladies auxiliary, they used to bring the firefighters food and coffee and stuff like that. That’s how we met. We have three boys and a daughter, and three grandkids.”
His cousin, Steve Chapko, is a captain with the Owosso Fire Department.
“He’d like to have me come there. I would if I was a little younger. I’m still in good shape. I still work out with some of the younger guys in the department,” Dan Chapko said.
Chapko who also worked with the Clinton County Response Team remembered one scenario vividly when he responded to two separate barn fires within a 36-hour time period, and 17 other fire departments also responded to render their assistance.
One call stands out, Chapko said.
“We had a situation where we had two missing kids, and we ended up searching for them for several hours and finding them at like 2:30 a.m. We got a special thanks from the governor for that,” Chapko said.