GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (July 4, 2014) — Tony Beurkens Sr. is retiring from the Grand Rapids Fire Department of all days, on Independence Day.
“It’s my last day,” Beurkens told FOX 17.
He added, “Just shy of 30 years.”
Before that, he was a mechanic. He found his calling and decided to run into burning buildings to save lives.
“And I think it was probably one of the best moves I ever made,” he said.
Like father, like son. Tony Beurkens Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps 16 years ago. His was an obvious influence.
“I think the stories that I would hear [drew me to firefighting]. Yea, when he would come home, just the excitement of it,” Beurkens Jr. explained.
Beurkens Sr. said, “Seeing the things we see, I wasn’t real sure I wanted [my son] to see all those, but he’s done a great job. I’m proud of what he’s done with himself.”
Beurkens Sr. said there are fires and then there are moments that stick with every first responder. One his is battling the deadliest fire in Grand Rapids history.
“As we got there, we’re pulling people out in the yard. and the chiefs yelling, ‘we got to go back in. We got more people in there,’ and I’m going ‘how many people do we have in there?’ There were seven people in there,” he recalled.
He responded to the fire that gutted his old home on Alpine and a blaze that burned his father’s old meat shop across the street.
But as explains, responding to calls is only part of the job. He took FOX 17 on a tour of the station.
There’s a room for sewing. It’s needed when equipment, like hoses, rip. There’s a metal shop, and a wood shop. They’re all for repairing equipment, in between emergencies.
“It’s on going. All the time. The days of people saying those guys just sit around play cards or play checkers and stuff… I’ve never seen a checkerboard in a fire station,” he said.
There’s a workout room too.
Beurkens said he’s seen a lot of change in the city department over the years. He said he’s seen the fire department go from as many as 70 firefighters on duty a day to an average of 42 or 43 in a day.
“Taking on a lot of extra responsibility and doing it with a lot less people. It’ll tax the city. And it taxes the guys,” Beurkens Sr. said.
But one thing has stayed the same, and that’s helping people.
“Ya know, we do a lot of stuff with the schools. [Beurkens Jr.] is a president of a motorcycle club that we’ve established that we’ve raised money for charity. There’s a lot of things that we do together on duty as well as on,” he eplained.
“Like I said, this is your second family. So it’s like stepping away from your second family,” he added.
“Most guys and gals in the department enjoy helping people. So I think that’s the biggest part [I'm going to miss],” he said.
He added, “It’s kind of mixed emotions.”
“Bunch of good guys, good gals, and [my career is] done.”
Beurkens said it’s time to let the next generation take the reigns.