Two decades is an esteemed milestone, and Marshfield Fire & Rescue’s Deputy Chief Pete Fletty and Deputy Chief Steve Bakos are celebrating.
Fletty, an Eau Claire native, came into the firefighting profession casually.
Fletty’s parents had both worked for the City of Eau Claire, his dad in wastewater management and mom for the school district, and encouraged their son to find a municipal career. After a year exploring general education courses at UW-Eau Claire, Fletty wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but was intrigued by his friend’s volunteer firefighting position. A second cousin, Mike Fletty, has also since retired as Captain from Eau Claire Fire Department.
“Eventually I had to decide on something and firefighting was it. I took the leap, I guess. I got on the waiting list for Fox Valley Tech,” he said. Fletty supported himself during the two-year wait time by building trusses.
Once school started, he participated in the associate program at Fox Valley Technical College, which included an internship with Oshkosh Fire.
“Basically you work their shifts. You go to school from 8-4, and after 4 you are at the firehouse until 7 the next morning. Then, I would have a day off to be with my then-fiancé. It gave me a really good taste of the job,” he said. “I wanted to be doing something active, something different.”
Applying for firefighting jobs twenty years ago was competitive.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Fletty. “I was winding down my Associate Degree when I got a call from Marshfield and they told me I was hired. I was working at warehouse part-time and everyone there was rooting for me. I went through my physical and everything passed.”
Fletty originally planned to eventually take a job in Eau Claire, but one life-changing event altered that plan.
“In 2002, my dad passed away. He was in a boating accident near Eau Claire. I got a call that his boat was spinning on the lake and that he was missing,” he said. “My DC didn’t hesitate, told me to go. Rescuers recovered my dad’s body after 14 days. After that, there was the funeral and everything. People here told me ‘We’ll work all these days for you.’ They just picked up my days. When I got back, after about a month, I owed like 10 people days, so I came back to repay my trades. Not a single person would let me trade it back. They say a Fire Department is family. At that moment I realized how solid that really is. I knew I was in the right place, that I work with the best people on earth.”
“After 20 years still, we have the best job in the world, hands down,” added Fletty. “I love my job, and still love coming to work after 20 years. We’re never going to be millionaires in this profession, but you can make a living doing this and there’s nothing else I’d rather do. There’s something to be said for loving your job after 20 years.”
Deputy Chief Steve Bakos, a Grafton native, joined Marshfield Fire and Rescue after five years at Grafton Volunteer Fire Department north of Milwaukee.
“In high school, looking at all different careers, the only thing that I knew was that I wanted to be a volunteer firefighter somewhere. My dad was a volunteer for a few years and I heard some of the stories and it sounded fun and exciting,” he said. “A career counselor said ‘why not do it as a career?’ I guess I had never thought about it before that.”
After finishing high school, Bakos put his name on the wait list for technical college and began volunteering for experience in the field.
“From there, life kind of happened. I didn’t actually go to tech school at that time,” he said. Instead, he worked odd jobs, including at Walmart and as an EMT with private ambulance services.
“I ended up a few years later going to paramedic school. After all of the training with the department, I put out applications. Getting into the fire service is extremely competitive. You apply anywhere,” he said. “Marshfield offered me a job. After looking at the community, I realized Marshfield is a really great community to raise a family in.”
Bakos has also been a longtime member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), a division of Natural Disaster Medical System that provides rapid-response medical care after a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other large-scale event.
“This career and department allowed me to do that as well as work here,” he said. “That has been one of the highlights for me career-wise.”
When Bakos and Fletty were hired, the fire service industry was competitive. Nowadays, it can be challenging to find qualified applicants.
“It’s just weird how things change in the 20 years. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to be up against 200 other applicants for one or two positions. In today’s world, we’re getting maybe 20 applicants,” said Fletty. “It doesn’t seem like there aren’t as many people interested in this field anymore, but this is a rewarding career and you can support a family.”
“If you’re thinking about it, get on a waiting list now. Join a volunteer department to get some experience that way,” said Fletty. “Also, start the medical side of what we do. You have to work your way up to EMT Basic. If you don’t like the EMS side of it, you’re probably not going to like the job a whole lot.”
“You have to experience it to know if you’re going to love it,” said Bakos. “You can do ride-alongs if you are interested and want to know what it’s like working here. The Citizens Fire Academy is another great program. If you want to get into this as a career, departments are ready to hire people that are fully trained and ready to start working.”
“You have to want to help the community, the citizens in the community. You gotta have that drive to help others,” added Fletty. “What keeps us going is the family support system on shift.”
“You have to have a strong desire to help and you have to have a good support system,” said Bakos. “There are bad days and as much as you rely on your family here and at home, there are people that just can’t handle the stress of this job. You need a good sense of humor. If you take things too seriously, you’re not gonna make it.”
“We all have our share of the nightmare calls. We still think about those from time to time,” said Fletty.
Fortunately, they both have many fond memories to reflect upon, too.
“A lot of the stuff I like to think about are our shift outings. We go camping with everyone’s families for a few days and just have a good time fishing, swimming, sitting around the campfire. Those are some of the best memories I have,” he said. “We used to have a softball team with the PD. Those are some good memories, after ball was done, just sitting around chit-chatting.”
“We were so cramped in that other [fire station]. It was a constant togetherness,” reflected Bakos. “Looking back, that brought us tightly together as a department, as a shift. There were a lot of shenanigans over there!”
Bakos and Fletty value the department as a second family, and can’t imagine having a different career.
“Working on shift for almost 20 years, 24-hour shifts, you become very close,” said Bakos. “You spend a lot of birthdays, holidays, and the typical day-to-day stuff together. I read somewhere that a firefighter spends a third of their life at the fire station, so it’s pretty easy to see how it becomes family.”
“Plus there is all of the off-duty fishing and hunting with your ‘brothers and sisters’,” added Fletty.
For both men, their two decades at Marshfield Fire and Rescue Department has been time well spent.
“My favorite part in 20 years is the fact that I love what I do. I’ve told my kids for as long as they can remember: ‘You have to love what you do every day, otherwise going to work – it’s very difficult to get up in the morning,’” said Fletty.
“There are days that are harder than others, especially with some of the things you deal with, but from day one I’ve loved my job – just being able to come here and love what I do,” said Bakos. “I also love working with the people that I work with. It makes coming to work very enjoyable.”