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Puls retires as fire chief

It never took Gordon Puls long to answer a fire call.

From the computer room in his Fremont home, he can clearly see the Fremont Wolf River Fire Department’s station. That’s because it’s right next door to his house.

But these days, Puls no longer has to rush over there when there is a fire. On Jan. 1, he retired from the fire department after serving as its chief for 41 years. A retirement party was held for him on March 5.

“I was ready,” he said of his retirement.

Born and raised in Fremont, Puls learned by example about the importance of volunteering. His father, Otto, was an assistant fire chief.

“Back then, there were many more men in the department,” Puls said. “There was no TV. It was very much a social thing.”

He remembers being a junior member of the department in the late 1950s and then joining the department in 1961 after returning home from his service in the U.S. Army. He was appointed acting fire chief in 1968, and the following year he took over as chief.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of when the original Fremont Fire Department formed.

“The station was originally on the river, just west of the Fremont Hotel,” he said. “Back then, they had an old steamer. It was pulled with a horse. The gentleman across the street had a grocery store and had horses. They would use his horses. They would hook them up to the fire engine and go to the fires. They would pay him.”

From there, the department’s station moved to the old village hall on Wolf River Drive. In 1974, the present station was built on Waupaca Street.

Puls has many memories from his years serving as fire chief. Among them are the big fires. He remembers the fires at Mel’s Grocery Store and at Ted’s Grandview, and of helping in Weyauwega in 1996 when a train derailed.

“I don’t know how many days straight,” he said of how long they worked at that site.

Puls, who turned 70 in December, was also on the ambulance crew at one time.

“Of all the years I was on the ambulance, the one thing I never got to do was deliver a baby,” he said.

He saw his share of wounds from gunshots and knives. “One Christmas Eve, I did CPR all the way from Fremont to Appleton,” Puls said. “We fetched nine bodies out of the Wolf River over the years.”

Today, fewer people drown due to education about boater safety, he said.

Puls said there are not as many fires today, including barn fires, also because of education and safety measures.

“Farming has changed. People are not storing hay inside buildings anymore. Years ago, lots of problems were due to the hay storage,” he said. “The other thing, also, is a lot of education as far as fire prevention. We’ve been going to the schools for a number of years.”

And, when the department’s volunteer members answer a fire call, they are better equipped today.

The Fremont Wolf River Fire Department has two pumpers, two tankers, two grass fire rigs, an equipment van and water rescue equipment.

“When I first got on, we didn’t have fire equipment. We just wore whatever we had on,” he said.

Back then, farmers also helped them, driving to fires in their pickup trucks and bringing water and whey to help put out the fires.

In addition to Puls, his brother, Gilbert, also served the department. During World War II, when there was a girl’s fire department, his sister, Geraldine, was part of that. And Puls’ son, Wilbur, also served on the department for many years.

Puls said that being a member of the fire department takes commitment from the entire family.

He worries about the future of small-town volunteer fire departments and of them being able to provide daytime coverage.

“Years ago, there were more businesses in town. You could just leave for fires,” he said.

That was one of the reasons why he became the fire chief. He was available.

“I enjoyed it more in the earlier years,” he said. “Today, there is more paperwork, more responsibility.”

Puls remembers when his father was a member of the department and about how people were willing to help. He also remembers the monthly meetings held at the station that included a lunch and care playing.

Puls was always ready to answer fire calls, and while he is no longer the chief, there is still a scanner in his home, and there likely will always be.

Why did he decide to become a part of the fire department more than 40 years ago?

“It was just community involvement,” he said.

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