Mike Regnier has been at this a long time. He sits in the office of Marion Auto Supply, his full-time day job. Scanner chatter crackles in the background, and his focus diverts.
Volunteer firefighter doesn’t constitute a career. It’s more of a lifestyle. Regnier has spent 40 years now living a fairly ordinary life. Only, he has to be constantly ready for the most extraordinary situations.
“It’s a little rush, but after a year or two, you can kind of control it more,” he said. “The first few fires, you don’t think well.”
Regnier is credited with 40 years of service, but his work started before then. Regnier’s late father, Jack, was mayor 40 years ago.
“They had a fire at the city shop,” Regnier said. “I went along with him down to the fire and they needed some help, so I started pulling hoses for them. The next day, the fire chief came in and wanted to know if I wanted to join the fire department.”
Forty years and a day, then.
Hazel Meierhoff was the chief at that time. Much has changed since those days, Regnier said.
“It used to be that the fire chief’s wife called everybody by telephone, and that’s how they got responders,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”
Throughout that time, Regnier has faced most all of the fires that Marionites would remember.
He recalled the fire at the Ford dealership that today is Carlsons’ Grocery.
He remembered July of 1980, the busiest month in his tenure.
“I think we had 40 fires that month,” he said.
He recalled the Christmas Eve blaze that claimed the home of Brice and Valerie Goebel, which lasted from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 that frigid Christmas morning.
“It was probably about zero degrees,” he said.
He remembers in March of 2004 when Marion units helped with a massive fire that destroyed a Hillsboro Mennonite church.
Todd Heitschmidt issued a mayoral proclamation designating Friday as Mike Regnier Day at last week’s Marion City Council meeting.
“You and your father are the only father-son pair ever to each have their own day,” City Administrator Roger Holter told him at the time.
Regnier smiled and posed for the pictures, but he’s not a fire chief for the recognition.
“I have trouble with that,” he said. “That’s not why I do it.”
Regnier said the city fire department makes about 100 runs a year, and he goes on 90 percent of them. He’s proud to have served his community for so long.
“Forty years sounds big, but it doesn’t seem that long,” he said.
Regnier said one of his 17 volunteer firefighters has been with the department for 37 years, and another for between 25 and 30. Of course, not all his staff members are veterans to the department.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Wow, that’s longer than I am old,’” he said. “It’s gone by fast.”
Regnier said he doesn’t know when he’ll step away from it.
“I have trouble leaving things unfinished,” he said.
Unless Marion becomes fireproof, then, he’ll be at it a while longer.
For Friday, however, he laughed when asked how Marion citizens should ring in Mike Regnier Day.
“I expect a whole bunch of people to come and give me a hard time is what I expect,” he said.