BROOKINGS – Dan Kriese started his career with the Brookings Fire Department, and now he’s back, this time as the deputy fire chief.
“I don’t expect to make huge changes with the fire department because it’s operating like a well-oiled machine. I’ve got full faith in every member of the department, from the fire chief (Pete Bolzer) to the newest firefighter,” Kriese said, adding he’s here to learn.
“That’s the thing with this career is you can’t ever stop learning. Once you stop learning, or you want to stop learning, that’s when you need to find something else to do,” Kriese said.
Not only has he come home to his original department, but he’s come home to family in more ways than one: his brother, Jim, is an assistant fire chief on the crew.
“I simply believe that the firefighters of the Brookings Fire Department are the best in the state. I don’t think anybody can argue that because they are so dedicated,” Dan Kriese said.
Born and raised in Brookings, Dan Kriese studied ag education at South Dakota State University. He served on the Brookings Fire Department for three years as a young adult.
“When I was engaged to my now wife (Kellee), she had a career waiting for her at Tyson Fresh Meats and that took us to the Sioux City area,” Kriese said.
He tried working in a sporting goods store, for Gateway Computers, and in the banking industry, then he found his calling.
“I had the opportunity to become a career firefighter at the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa. It’s an Iowa Air National Guard Base, and because of the military aircraft located there, they have to have 24-hour 365-day fire protection,” Kriese said.
“We provided fire protection, not only for the base but also automatic aid with Sioux City Fire Department in the heavy industrial area around the airport,” Kriese said.
He wound up fighting “quite a few industrial fires” and his crews were automatic aid for any structure fires in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.
“I was there for 11 1/2 years before I took this position, and assistant fire chief with North Sioux City Fire Department for about 18 years,” Kriese said.
The call home
Even though they moved away, Kriese and his wife always had one eye on their hometown.
“Both Kellee and I said shortly after we moved to the Sioux City area, if we had a chance to move back to Brookings and have careers we both enjoyed going to every morning, we would probably move back in a heartbeat,” Kriese said.
When the position for deputy fire chief came open, Kriese applied and “was lucky enough” to get it.
Their daughter, Kyla, is a freshman in college, but Kellee is still in North Sioux City with their 16-year-old son, Kale.
“Our plans are for our son to finish school down there,” Kriese said.
Although his immediate family is a bit scattered at the moment, Kriese has plenty of extended family in the vicinity. In addition to his brother, Jim, his mother and sister are still here, as are Kellee’s parents.
The couple is willing to deal with the separation to achieve their dream of coming home and advancing Kriese’s career.
“This is a big step in the direction for us to get back home, and it’s also kind of a unique opportunity for myself: starting my fire service career, going elsewhere for 22 1/2 and then … coming back to the fire department I started at, being second-in-command,” Kriese said.
“To me that’s a pretty unique opportunity that I don’t think just happens to anybody, that they’re able to go back home and help run the fire department that they grew up with,” Kriese said.
It was also a step up professionally for him.
“My assistant chief position with North Sioux City (was) part-time and this is, obviously, full-time,” Kriese said.
What drew him to the position was knowing not only quite a few of the firefighters, but also Bolzer and his leadership style, because Kriese prefers to have an educational leadership style, where personnel are trained properly to begin with.
“I actually spent a lot of time down at the Alabama Fire College, taking leadership classes and advanced classes,” Kriese said. “Some of that’s already paid off a little bit … I’ve shown some people some things and they’ve liked it.”
He thinks it’s important to not only learn new skills, but different, more efficient ways of doing things.
“As a chief officer, if you’re in command of a situation, you’ve got the personnel doing Plan A, but as an incident commander, you’ve also got to be thinking about Plan B, C and D,” Kriese said.
He started with the Brookings Fire Department on Sept. 13 and said he’s enjoyed being back – “every minute” – and part of that is due to the crew he’s working with at the department.
“The firefighters are great; my co-workers here at the fire department are awesome. Personnel with the entire city have been excellent,” Kriese said.
On the job
Being the deputy fire chief means Kriese has to be ready to jump in the top spot at any time.
“I’m the fire chief when the fire chief isn’t here. I work very closely with Pete,” Kriese said.
“I pretty much need to know every aspect of the department that the fire chief does because in his absence, it is up to me to ensure successful operations of the department, in its entirety. That’s anything from answering fire calls to budgeting items to city council items,” Kriese said.
Even though Kriese is one of only three or four paid employees at the fire department, with the rest being volunteers, he said it doesn’t change how he does his job at all, and he has great respect for the men and women who answer the tones.
“Being a volunteer firefighter for the last 25 years myself, I understand exactly what it takes to be a volunteer, the dedication. The 45 firefighters of this department amazingly give selfless dedication to the citizens of this community,” Kriese said.
“Volunteer firefighting is where my heart is because the firefighters are here because they want to; they’re not here for a paycheck,” Kriese said.
Having a volunteer crew has another advantage, he said.
“It being a volunteer fire department, from a monetary standpoint, that allows … the Brookings Fire Department to have very, very good equipment. Without good equipment, it’s tough to do a good job, and without good training, it’s tough to do a good job,” Kriese said.
“The City of Brookings is fortunate to have both very good equipment and very well-trained firefighters, so it took me no time to decide that I really need to put my application in for this position. It’s a great organization and the city’s a great city to work for,” Kriese said.
Using his skills
Kriese is Inspector 3 certified in the Fire and Life Safety Program, which allows him to oversee the fire inspection program, but never really got to use his expertise in his former job.
“I’m going to be working with the inspector on commercial building inspections and help in that program,” Kriese said.
He believes inspecting buildings and catching situations before they become problems makes for a safer community.
“Actually, in my (job) interview, there was a question asked about fire prevention and inspections. I said in my 25 years as a firefighter, I’ve pulled one person out of a building that was on fire. However, with fire prevention programs and inspection programs, I have no idea how many lives I’ve saved. You can’t quantify that, there’s no way of keeping track of that,” Kriese said.
He’d rather a situation be caught and fixed rather than endanger anyone’s life and take the risk of someone being hurt or killed.
“If one life has been saved because of prevention and inspections, it’s well worth it. I kind of take life safety to heart because buildings can be replaced, people can’t,” Kriese said.
“It feels good putting a uniform on, coming to work every day, knowing that what I’m doing is making a difference in the community,” he said.
“I’d like the citizens to know that … when I took this job, I put the weight of this city and its citizens and visitors on my shoulders so this is a career that I take very seriously and am very fortunate to be able to be doing,” Kriese said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]