By David Fleet
Atlas Twp. — Firefighter Lt. Gary Schafer recalls a scared cat hiding under the bed.
“It was one of the first house fires I’d ever responded to,” said Schafer, who joined the Atlas Township Fire Department in 2004. “The homeowners were out safe, but told us the family cat was still inside the house. So, we went back to the burning house and found the cat hiding under the bed. So, I grabbed the cat and it really attached itself to me with its claws. But we got the cat out safely once we detached it from me.”
Whether saving family pets or assisting with a community project, for the past 18 years Schafer’s dedication to the safety and betterment of area residents, that earned him 2015 Atlas Township Firefighter of the Year will come to a close on Jan. 1, with his retirement.
“It’s been an honor,” said Schafer, 63. “For me and many other firefighters it’s not the money or fame, rather we just want to help out where we can. You have to make a commitment to the job and be there when needed. We have a great team at Atlas Township that really works together. They are just outstanding and really know their job.”
Schafer, a 1977 graduate of St. John’s High School, has been married to wife Susan for 27 years. The couple will be relocating to Clearwater Fl. They have four children and three grandchildren.
Schafer joined the department after responding to an ad in The Citizen newspaper for firefighters.
“I did not realize just how much training was needed,” he recalled. “From Medical First Responders training to the Fire Academy, there’s much to learn.”
Over the past 18 years technology has made the job of firefighter more efficient, from battery operated Jaws of Life to better fire trucks much has changed, he said.
“I enjoyed working in the community,” said Schafer. “And while there’s been tough calls there’s also been some real rewarding times too.”
Schafer said residents would often provide water in the summer while fighting a grass fire or hot coffee when standing by over downed power lines during storms.
“I really see the best of people,” he said. “This has been my opportunity to give back to a great area.”
Shirley Kautman-Jones, township supervisor recognized Schafer’s contributions.
“Lt. Schafer was a great community liaison between the fire department and the various community groups,” said Kautman-Jones. “He coordinated a variety local activities that benefited the community.”
When not fighting fires or working his day job in water analysis, Schafer volunteers at the Atlas Township Haunted Fire Hall during Halloween, Duck Races at Good Times in Goodrich and Fill the Boot fundraiser to collect money for the Eastern Michigan Food Bank. He also is a member of the Knights of Columbus.
“My family has been so supportive of me,” he said. “I’ve toned out on a call during birthday parties or in the middle of a storm at night,” he said. ‘It just comes with the job. I often drive the fire truck to the accident or fire and even with the sirens screaming drivers don’t move out of the way. It’s frustrating sometimes. But there’s many rewards in the job, too. After a fire many times the homeowner is shaken, but still is very grateful that we saved their home or helped them in some way. They often hug us. I see victims at very vulnerable times.”
Atlas Township Assistant Fire Chief Ed Klimek said Gary was a great guy to have in the department.
“Anytime a volunteer was needed he was first to accept and never said no to any request,” said Klimek. “No matter what day or time of the night Gary would always respond to any call. He will definitely be missed.”
By David Fleet