Firefighter wraps up nearly 50 years of service
October 14, 2011
Why would a German employee give nearly five decades of his life to the U.S. Army.
The answer, according to firefighter Fred Weiss who retired after 46-and-a-half years of service on Sept. 30, was "a passion for the job."
"It was a good life -- I would do it again," said Weiss, describing his experiences working at the U.S. military fire departments in Mainz, Darmstadt and Wiesbaden.
Weiss, who said he left school at age 15 and studied to be a car mechanic, volunteered for his local German fire department before gaining employment with the U.S. Army in 1965. After working as a firefighter in Mainz-Finthen, he moved on to the Darmstadt military community where he served as a fire dispatcher from 1968 to 1975, fire inspector from 1975 to 1988 and as the fire chief for the next 20 years.
With the drawdown of the 233rd Base Support Battalion (Darmstadt military community), Weiss moved on to Wiesbaden to serve with the Fire Department on Wiesbaden Army Airfield.
"I liked it with the American people. I felt close to the Americans," said Weiss, adding that in the early years of his career "it was much better. Everything was much easier -- not so complicated."
As fire chief in Darmstadt, Weiss said the work was both rewarding and challenging. "We had a hell of a big area to cover," he said, pointing out that besides an ammunition site in Muenster and installations in Babenhausen and Aschaffenburg, the Darmstadt Fire Department was eventually responsible for Frankfurt as well.
"It was only possible because we had such a good relationship with the host nation fire departments," he said.
"Fred is one of those people you like to have in your department," said Daniel Corzelius, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden fire chief. "He never says no when you ask for assistance. He has such a wide area of expertise and was always willing to jump in wherever needed. That includes every aspect of firefighting -- from driving the truck to manning the fire control center to attending meetings and always knowing what's going on."
Corzelius, who started his career with the U.S. Army in 1984, years after Weiss "started when the dollar was worth four Deutsch marks," said he got to know Weiss over the years through joint training sessions and other activities. The Wiesbaden fire chief said Weiss's experience and expertise will be sorely missed.
"That's years of experience that we're losing -- it's not really replaceable," he said.
"He's a wonderful person -- very cooperative and very helpful," said Helmut Kuhn, former 104th Area Support Group fire chief, who retired in 2005, and was on hand to wish Weiss well at his retirement ceremony. "As a fire chief he was always very objective -- very unusual, in the positive sense."
Weiss, who was also engaged as a member of the host nation works councils, said he plans to continue his social responsibilities after retiring.
"I'm involved in a project in Africa, running a foster home for 220 children that was started in 2001," he said, adding that he also plans on spending more time with his grandchild.
"Fred has contributed an awful lot to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden and to the Darmstadt military community," said Dr. Robert Kandler, USAG Wiesbaden deputy to the commander, during the retirement ceremony. "It's no coincidence that Mr. Weiss came here and quite coincidentally the garrison was picked as the best installation in the U.S. Army."