Next week Bob Pape ends a 38-year career with the Merriam Fire Department, with his last five years as fire chief. “I’ve done it all,” Pape says of all the different positions he has held with the department over those years.
Pape started as a volunteer in Merriam in February of 1976, when Merriam had a mix of paid and volunteer firefighters. The Merriam department started in 1947 as volunteer and made its transition to a full professional group. Later this year, the Merriam Fire Department will merge into the Overland Park Department.
A retirement party for Bob Pape will be held today at the Merriam Communty Center from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. with a presentation at 4:30 p.m.
Pape didn’t have to wait long to get a full-time paid job as a firefighter. He made the transition in September 1977 and quit his job at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. He once had thoughts of medical school and the department had an ambulance so it still felt like he was involved in medical, Pape says.
Of all of the fire calls over the years, one that stands out is a mutual aid call in Mission where his team went in to rescue a firefighter who had fallen through the floor into the basement of a burning house. With low-oxygen alarms going off, Pape had to pull his team out and send another team in. “That was tough,” he says of the decision he had to make to save his men. “It was complete darkness. You could’t see your hand in front of your face. (Some) calls you just don’t forget.”
The job has changed over the years. “It’s not just a fire service,” Pape says. Firefighters get called if someone is trapped – almost anywhere not just in a car – for technical rescue, hazardous materials, medical calls and a variety of other incidents. It takes a lot of training, he says.
His last days as chief and fire marshal – a dual role he has kept -have been busy with inspections and training for the new IKEA building. Pape was contemplating retirement five years ago because he had hit the pension ceiling. When he took the chief’s position, he did it with a self-imposed five-year limit. Pape has a master’s degree in public administration and says he still wants to stay active with the city after he retires.
Now the department also will be changing. Merriam will continue to own its station and equipment, but it will be part of Overland Park. Merriam has been covering north Overland Park this year in preparing for the move. The two pumpers, ladder truck and medical squad truck will belong to Merriam and the city will be responsible for upkeep. All the equipment stays at the Merriam station.The trucks will have the Overland Park patch with “Serving Merriam” added below.
The move becomes official at the end of December and is calculated to save both departments considerable money over the course of the 10-year contract, which has an option out with one-year notice, Pape says.