January 17, 2013 at 8:19 a.m.
The story about this firefighter isn’t contained in a single exceptional courageous act or sensational fire episode. Sure, those stories are admirable and have their place in the news; but in the recent celebration of Dennis Berry’s contribution to the community-- it’s cumulative decades of service punctuated by simple moments of thoughtfulness, and an underlying foundation of integrity and dedication that elevate Fire Chief Berry to irreplaceable status. A couple hundred people attended a retirement party for Berry January 11, filling the banquet room at Stars & Strikes Entertainment Center in Wyoming. If there were three people at that party who knew anything about the fire suppression system in the building, one of them would’ve been Chief Berry. When Public Safety Director/Police Chief Paul Hoppe got hold of the microphone he put Berry through an impromptu quiz of little known fun-facts. It got everybody thinking, however, about the level of knowledge in Berry’s brain being lost as he steps down with 41 years practical experience. Wyoming fire personnel have had the benefit of Berry having been there and done that. There are so many things that were just understood; like why firefighters avoid hydrants when called to a fire in the Lily Ponds neighborhood, hauling in water instead.
Or, what is the minimum pressure needed on all the various sized hoses before they’ll function perfectly? Which public buildings in Wyoming were built with special ring roads so heavy firetrucks can get to the structure if regular access is blocked? And, not all the retiring chief’s institutional knowledge could be considered a matter of life and death. Some of the old timers who took to the podium recalled that it was Dennis who always remembered to bring the medical bag into the fire hall after a run, so it wouldn’t get cold for the next call. Guys told of hanging onto leather straps attached to the tailgate of an old Wyoming fire truck, and joked that those were the days when they ran towards a structure fire, just so they could warm up. When Berry started as Wyoming’s fire chief there was no turnout gear, the No. 1 engine was over 60 years old.
Wyoming firefighters would try to eyeball the smoke and drive their rig in that general direction. Now the department is part of a statewide emergency radio network, firefighters can rely on protection from their advanced safety gear, the vehicles, equipment and firefighter training have moved into this century. There’s a saying that “safety doesn’t happen by accident” and everybody at the party gave Berry credit for his years of calmly but persistently lobbying Wyoming elected officials for department needs. Berry, looking around the room last week, quipped that two thirds of the party-goers weren’t even born when he started as chief. He noted that one truck now can haul as much water as the total capacity of all Wyoming’s trucks when he began. But “it’s not the shiny trucks,” Berry continued.
“it’s all the people who made those years possible.” He thanked family members who tolerated him dashing out the door-- missing dinners, holidays and birthday parties. He thanked neighboring fire departments “who stand by you.” Berry was being applauded by his well-wishers for creating a culture in which area departments and decision-makers would pull together and cooperate. As far as Berry was concerned his tenure was just a product of what already existed. “Everyone here is someone special,” he told the crowd.
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