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Incoming fire chief ready for challenge

It's been almost 20 years since Dave Baer moved to Detroit Lakes in 1991.

For most of that time, he's been a volunteer with the Detroit Lakes Fire Department.

"I joined in November 1992," he said. "I'm starting on my 18th year."

And soon, Baer will be starting on a new position within the department's ranks as well -- on Jan. 1, he will take over the duties of Fire Chief Jeff Swanson, who is stepping down after 25 years as chief.

"I've been assistant chief for the past four years," Baer said. (He also briefly served as assistant chief for a couple of years in the 1990s.)

"I'm excited," he added. "I think it'll be a big challenge... I have big shoes to fill."

Nevertheless, Baer said, he feels he's "up for the task."

Baer also feels a deep sense of gratitude to Swanson for his many years of dedicated service.

"That's been his hobby," Baer added. "Most of us hunt and fish -- Jeff's hobby was the fire department."

Hunting and fishing are popular pastimes among the department's 30 volunteers -- which makes it difficult come deer hunting season.

"We have four weekends a year when 10 of us (fire department members) are required to stay in town and be ready to respond -- July 4th, WE Fest weekend and both the first and second deer hunting weekends," Baer said. "Everybody wants to hunt, but we still have to have people here to protect the town."

In fact, all fire department members are on call 24/7 when they're in town, Baer said.

"We respond to all calls, whenever our pagers go off," he added.

The fire department is also occasionally asked to provide mutual aid to other departments in the area. Though Audubon and Frazee, as DL's closest neighbors, request that assistance most often, "it is a statewide system," Baer said.

Though all of the DL Fire Department's 30 members are volunteers, being a firefighter can be very time-consuming, Baer noted.

"It's a service that's getting harder and harder to provide," he added, as fewer and fewer people are willing, or able, to put in the necessary time commitment to become a firefighter.

"Every Wednesday, we're training," he said --not to mention the many hours it takes to put out some of the more serious fires that can arise. "We have anywhere from 200 to 300 calls in any given year."

Still, Baer added, "I enjoy it. I enjoy helping people. There's no better feeling than to save someone's life, or property. That's why I do it. I think that's why we all do it -- to help people in their time of need."

The job also has its drawbacks, however. Baer said that every time he passes the scene of a past car accident or fire, he remembers what happened.

"You don't forget any of the accidents, or fatalities," he said. "Every time you go by a place where there was a bad accident or fire, it brings it back."

He recalls one particularly tough fire that occurred in Frazee a few years back, when the bowling alley went up in flames.

"I was inside (the building) during that fire, and it got a little hairy when the building started to collapse," Baer recalled. "Everybody got out, it was just a little exciting for a few minutes."

Baer doesn't deal with quite as much drama in his day job. He and Brady Markuson have been co-owners of Markuson-Baer Insurance (MBI) since Jan. 1, 2008.

Located on the second floor of the Wells Fargo building in Detroit Lakes, the business offers "virtually every kind of insurance you might need," Baer said.

"Our mainstay is commercial, home and auto (insurance), and we do a lot of Medicare business also," he added.

MBI was actually formed from the merging of two former DL businesses, Sukke Insurance and Insurance Services, which the partners purchased two years ago.

But it was his work as an area manager for Pizza Hut that brought Baer to DL almost 20 years ago. At the time, the Pizza Hut franchises were owned by PepsiCo.

"I went straight to work after graduating high school," said Baer, who is a Fargo North High School graduate.

He started as a manager for the Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks Pizza Huts, before being relocated to Sioux City, Iowa. After coming to Detroit Lakes, he was promoted to area manager, running the franchises in DL, Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Devils Lake, N.D.

"That was a lot of windshield time," Baer said.

When PepsiCo. sold the Pizza Hut franchises, Baer got out of the business.

After that, Baer worked as a salesman for Barrel O'Fun for a couple of years, before seeing an opening for an insurance agent with a fraternal agency based in the Twin Cities.

"Some 10 or 11 years later, I'm loving it -- I love what we do," Baer said.

When he's not working, Baer can often be found hunting or fishing -- or spending time with his family, which includes his wife of 21 years, Denise; oldest daughter Ashley, 19, a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead; daughter Haley, 16, and son Zacary, 13, who are both students at Detroit Lakes High School.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454