By Pat Jenkins
For someone who thought he was signing up for something else, fire protection has been very good to Gary Franz.
Graham Fire and Rescue’s deputy chief is retiring this month from a career that has lasted 40 years. Actually, it’s been more than a career.
“This has been a blessing,” he said. “It’s the best job in America. I’ve never had a problem getting up in the morning and going to work. It’s always different every day. The people are good-hearted, solid folks. You want to be around them. Everything is always constructive in nature.”
He became a firefighter after joining the Air Force straight out of high school at the age of 17.
He grew up “a surfer kid” in San Diego, Calif. and admits, “I was lazy in high school. I knew couldn’t make a living surfing.” He thought the Air Force’s fire control program, which drew him into the military, involved firing weapons. But it was firefighting. “And I took to it like a fish takes to water. I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” and did for nine fire departments.
Franz, 59, spent the last 11 years with Graham Fire and Rescue, which he joined in April 2002 after a stint as chief of a fire department on Key Peninsula.
In Graham, where he was often the agency’s face as its public information officer, “it’s been wonderful to be part of a vibrant, growing department,” he said. “I’m so thankful. When I came on board, it had two full-time (staffed) and two volunteer fire stations. Now it has five full-time stations and one volunteer (Kapowsin). The community has been very supportive of our levies and our goal to provide the very best service we can give.”
In 2012, Graham’s fire and medical aid units met their desired response times in 90 percent of their emergency calls. One of his last tasks before retiring was preparing a report on that.
Franz will be missed, said Graham fire chief Reggie Romines.
“Gary has lived a life of service to citizens and to the fire fighters he has led,” Romines said. “His work ethic and integrity is unmatched. He will always be part of our (fire department) family.”
Romines said Franz’s work at the state and county levels on building codes and fire prevention “saved lives.”
As much as he has loved firefighting, his advice to anyone thinking about it as their own career is to “try being a volunteer firefighter first. Find out if it’s right for you,” he said.
Franz gave similar advice to his son, Jon, when he was 19 and showing interest in firefighting. Jon, a former volunteer with Graham Fire, is now a fulltime firefighter for Central Pierce Fire.
Franz also counseled his daughter, Shari Irish, “when she was 21, had finished college and wanted to know what kind of job related to my profession would be good for her, but wouldn’t involve the possibility of seeing people who were hurt in accidents or fires. She knew she couldn’t handle that. So I told her how important 9-1-1 dispatchers are,” he said. Today, Irish is a dispatcher for South Sound 9-1-1, Pierce County’s emergency communications agency.
Franz and his wife, Colleen, have one other adult offspring – Eric, an electrician in California – and six grandchildren.
Colleen, who works for a title company, plans to retire in 2014. Then the couple will start living in Arizona.
Between the start of their retirements, Franz will be “a nanny” for his daughter’s children when she works 24-hour shifts. And he’ll continue working with Pierce County Fire Chiefs Association, this time as a consultant, for the rest of 2013 on advising the County Council on fire service-related impact fees for developments
“I also,” he said, “would like to do some missionary work with my church (High Point Community Church). I really want to do some work that God wants me to do instead of what I want to do.”