It is like being on a sports team, Valparaiso Fire Chief Chad Dutz said. The men and women who serve the City of Valparaiso on the Fire Department are all part of the same team working together to make the city a safe place to live.
“A lot of us here are drawn to the teamwork, the camaraderie,’ Dutz said. “You’re just drawn to serving. It is a great feeling to serve your community.”
Becoming a firefighter was a career Dutz was intrigued by back in high school, after watching a friend’s uncle serve on the local department. He and his family were from Illinois but in 1990, the Dutz family moved to Valparaiso.
He moved to Florida for two years for a firefighter academy program, then returned and went to EMT school, thinking the extra certification and teaching would help him get a job on one of the departments.
Dutz has been a firefighter for Valpo for the last 20 years, moving up from firefighter through the ranks to lieutenant, captain and now chief. He has been the chief of the department for the last two years.
Over the years, his love for the job has not changed, but his and his teammates’ responsibilities have.
“When I first started we had to rotate who used the trucks and did medical training in the beginning months,” he said. “Now, there is a really very little amount of fires anymore more. There were more fires 20 years ago. Now it is more on the medical side.”
Now to even apply to be a firefighter, you have to be a paramedic too and have gone to paramedic school, he explained. Twenty years ago, the emergency vehicles and ambulances were run out of Porter Regional Hospital, and now the department has their own emergency system in place.
“We used to have 100 fires a year and now we only have about 25, maybe less,” he said. “We do more medical than anything.”
There are 67 fulltime firefighters working within three stations under Dutz’s command. As someone who loves the community of Valpo and enjoys serving his community, he is happy to say he and his team really do not see anyone on a daily basis.
Unless a medical reason, and on the almost rare chance of a fire, the fire department does not see people in the community, which is a positive thing since they do not want any trouble. But, to engage with the community, the department hosts several community awareness events and programs for people to enjoy.
The biggest program is the Car Seat Safety check event, where the fire department, along with 10 professional technicians, check, test, and help community members install their children’s car seats properly in the car. Families in need who cannot afford them, Dutz explained, will get new car seats to keep for their children.
Other community events include fire safety programs within the schools, smoke detector programs, carbon monoxide detectors events, CPR classes and the annual firefighter picnic.
The newest program that Dutz is hoping to expand in the next year is the Fired Up for Reading program, where students must read so many books to win a ride to school in the fire truck. This year was the first year for the program and was only offered to students at Cooks Corners Elementary School.
“This year was just the pilot,” he said. “We want to add more schools and go from there. We have a lot of outreach programs that are fun and allows us to see more of the community.”
Dutz is married to his wife Dana, a Valparaiso High School and Valparaiso University graduate. She works as an ER nurse at Porter Hospital. The two have four children, with the oldest being a recent graduate of North Central College, a 10-year-old boy, an 8-year-old daughter and the youngest, a girl, going into third grade.
The Dutzs spend all their free time together, either hiking at the Indiana Dunes or playing games at Central Park in downtown Valpo. The young ones and he enjoy the summer movies in the park as well, he said, but in the winter he makes sure to stay on the sidelines when the plaza turns into an ice skating rink.
“The ice skating rink, I’m a little afraid of,” he admitted laughing. “I’m not an ice skater. I tried it once and it was fun, but scary. It’s harder than I thought it was going to be. I don’t want to fall.”
Instead of the ice, he prefers to head out to the golf course when he can or to the beach to play frisbee on the sand. The warmer and safer the hobby, the more likely you’ll find the Fire Chief!