Pictured above from left: Paul Corcoran, Second Assistant Chief; Fire Chief Chad Rasmussen; and First Assistant Chief James Dailey.
TCR/SCOTT BESTUL Pictured above from left: Paul Corcoran, Second Assistant Chief; Fire Chief Chad Rasmussen; and First Assistant Chief James Dailey.
Chad Rasmussen is the new chief of the Rushford Fire Department. The 20-year veteran of the department took over leadership duties from former chief Paul Corcoran on Jan. 11. Rasmussen has spent half of his two-decade career as the organization’s training officer, three years as the Second Assistant Chief, and three years as the First Assistant Chief.

“We had a meeting early last year, at which Paul (Corcoran) mentioned to all the officers that he would be stepping down as chief at the end of the year,” Rasmussen recalled, “We ordered the new fire truck and he wanted to make sure it got delivered before he stepped down.”

Rasmussen said that only an officer, or former officer, can be considered for the chief position. Then a selection committee calls each of the officers to determine their interest. When the committee called Rasmussen and asked if he would be willing to step into the top job, he agreed. After approval from department members and the Rushford City Council, Rasmussen’s promotion became official.

“Being a firefighter is a big-time commitment,” Rasmussen said. “You have meetings, training, and a lot of other stuff to attend. When it comes to things like fires, a search and rescue, or a car accident, you have to be right there willing to help. The only difference for me now is I’ll wear a white helmet (as chief) and everyone else wears a black helmet.”

The veteran firefighter realizes he’s taking on a big job. Whether he’s at a fire or on vacation, Rasmussen is ultimately responsible for the fire department. If something negative should ever happen, he’ll be the one that has to deal with it. Rasmussen said the first or second assistant will generally go into a situation like a house fire and relay information back to the chief. “It’s going to be a learning process as I was always the one that went into the house fire or was getting a car opened up,” he said.

Former chief Corcoran, accepted the Second Assistant Chief position. Rasmussen said he’ll be leaning on Corcoran for some help in settling into his new position The pair talked several times before Rasmussen agreed to take the job, which he did on the condition that Corcoran give him some guidance early on. “I said he’d have to stick around and help walk me through this a little,” Rasmussen said. “Paul is a great asset to this community and to the fire department. I also expect James Dailey to do a great job as the First Assistant.”

Though he joined the fire department 20 years ago, Rasmussen’s interest in fighting fires goes back to childhood; he remembers being only five years old when he first took notice of the big red trucks. “That’s the first time I remember sitting up and looking out my window, hearing the sirens as they went by my house,” he recalled. “It might have been one o’clock in the morning when I thought to myself ‘that’s something I want to do.’ I’ve always wanted to be part of it and jumped at the opportunity as soon as I could. Ever since then, it’s been a great experience.”

From his first day at the fire station Rasmussen knew he wanted to someday be chief. But just becoming a fireman requires some very hard work and a rigorous selection process. After a candidate applies, he’s called in for an interview. Candidates then perform physical tests like dragging a fire hose (they’re as heavy as they look on TV), climb a ladder, and even put on an air pack (breathing apparatus) to make sure they can do it properly. Rasmussen said it’s as difficult as it might sound.

“After all that, my first time riding to a fire was scary,” Rasmussen recalls. “My very first call was on a Christmas Eve. When [the pager] went off, I froze, trying to figure out what to do. When I got to the fire hall, the vets helped me get ready to go. One of the assistant chiefs told me ‘Stay with me.’ I was relieved when he said that.”

Though he’s responded to many calls over the years, Rasmussen still feels butterflies when his pager goes off, largely because he never knows what kind of situation he’ll encounter. Rasmussen’s second call, which occurred only one day after his first, was an automobile accident on Christmas night. There was a fatality involved and he was completely shocked. “After that, you go home and wonder if this is something you really want to do,” he recalled.

Rasmussen grew up attending school in Rushford and graduated from what had then become Rushford-Peterson. Rasmussen and his wife Kim have two kids, son Lukas (19) and daughter Lakyn (14). Rasmussen works full-time for the Minnesota Department of Transportation as a regular maintenance worker and he’s also the guy you’ll see out plowing snow.

“I couldn’t do this without the support of my employer, but even more so, the support of my family,” Rasmussen said. “That’s number one. If my family didn’t support me, I couldn’t even have attempted to get onto the fire department. My family has been hugely supportive of what I do there.”