A job well done

By on May 25, 2012

Photo: Maple Park firefighter Art Maercker (center) at his retirement party at Sorrentos on April 21. He is flanked by Fire Chief Kevin Petersen (right) and Assistant Chief Rod Johnson. Maercker served 50 years in the fire department from March 1, 1962 to March 1, 2012. He also served as Fire Chief from May 1979 to May 1996. Courtesy Photo

50-year veteran of Maple Park Fire Department retires
By Lynn Meredith
MAPLE PARK—In March 1962, 22-year old Art Maercker joined the volunteer fire department in his hometown because it interested him and because he wanted to do one thing “halfway right,” as he put it. That interest sustained until he retired in March 2012, after 50 years of service.

The Maple Park Fire Department honored Art with an open house at his favorite restaurant, Sorrento’s, on April 21. He was presented with a plaque, certificates from the state and the state fire marshal and some shirts and a jacket that displayed his retirement status. But underneath the celebration was the support of lifelong friends and comrades, not only in the Maple Park department but surrounding departments that worked closely with Maercker over the years, as well.

“Art and I have been friends forever. I’ve known him since we went to school together in Maple Park. We were both in the Maple Park Fire Department together, and then I moved to Elburn,” said retired Elburn Fire Chief Marty Strausberger. “We worked fires together and many mutual aide calls.”

The Maple Park department was all-volunteer until 2005, when Fire Chief Kevin Peterson became full-time and others began to be paid for on-call. When there was a structure fire like a barn or a house or even the George B. Smith factory that burned twice in Maple Park, an alarm rang, and men from the nearby businesses and farms would gather at the firehouse. The departments would call in a certain number of tankers and pumps from fire departments in neighboring towns to help fight the blaze.

“It was a lot of hard work, and it was a lot of hard play,” Maercker said. “I was there in the fun times. We didn’t have all the paperwork that Kevin has now. There’s just so many memories. We just had fun and a lot of work.”

The fire department changed over the years. The equipment became bigger and bigger and more powerful, Maercker said. Instead of an alarm to alert firefights, there are now pagers. One thing that has not changed is the comraderie among the firefighters.

“I have never been around a group who are so close knit,” Donna Maercker, Art’s wife, said. “They’re like a big family. When they get together, it’s like a family reunion. And everybody likes everybody.”

One time when a bar in Maple Park caught fire, and the MPFD left the truck running and were trying to fight the blaze from the front, they looked up and saw Strausberger and the Elburn guys coming down the street to help out.

“You back each other up. You don’t run a fire by yourself. You don’t care who it is that’s there, if it’s Elburn or Kaneville or who it is,” Maercker said.

Maercker served as chief from May 1979 to May 1996. He stayed on for the reason he joined in the first place: it still interested him. Well, that and the fact it was still fun.

“When Kevin took over as chief, all I did was drive tanker. But I’d give them grief, and they’d give me grief,” he said. “Now I still stop down and harass them, retired or not.”

Maercker told Peterson he didn’t want a party for his retirement, but Peterson ignored that instruction just like he ignored Maercker when he said he wanted to retire on a few occasions.

“He tried to retire a couple of times, but I wouldn’t accept it,” Peterson said. “The retirement open house was so low-key because that’s just the way he is. We tried to get him to get up and say something (at the party), but he just said ‘Thank you’ and walked off.”

Strausberger agreed that Maercker is quiet, but does what he needs to do.

“He doesn’t say much. We’ve been friends for years. He’s pretty quiet, but he gets the job done,” Strausberger said.

Donna encouraged having a party for him.

“When somebody puts in 50 years, you got to do something for a job well done,” she said.