Longtime Waterloo fire chief retiring

Waterloo Fire Chief Mark “Yogi” Yeager

Waterloo Fire Chief Mark “Yogi” Yeager is retiring effective Jan. 29, ending a generation of success.

Yeager, who turned 57 on New Year’s Day, has served as Waterloo’s fire chief since 1999 and has been a member of the department for 34 years in all.

“It’s been a great run,” Yeager said.

Brett Wiegand, who has served as first assistant chief for the past few years, will succeed Yeager as chief.

Yeager will remain with the department on “active honorary” status to assist when needed.

“I’ll still show up to help whenever available,” he said.

Yeager has almost always been available to answer the bell, averaging between 90 and 94 percent attendance on fire calls over the years. He said fellow firemen Charlie Lutz and Bobby Horn always “gave him a run” on fire call attendance.

Yeager recalls fireman Bob Jaenke approaching him back in 1981 about joining the fire department, as it was in need of daytime help.

“I just thought it was riding around in a truck and a night out away from the wife as a social club on Mondays,” he said. “But it’s so much more than that.”

Yeager also remembers his first fire call, a mutual aid request from Valmeyer in 1981 to assist with a blaze at Badger’s roller rink in what is now the old part of town near where Schneider’s used to be.

“You always remember your first call,” he said. “It was so cold that when you sprayed water it bounced back and you were a sheet of ice.”

In fact, Yeager remembers nearly every call he’s been on.

“I can drive around the county and point out which house or shed I’ve been to,” he said.

The firemen wore plastic helmets, rubber gloves and silver raincoats back when he started, Yeager said. These days, the gear is much more advanced, fitted and protective.

“The cost of equipment now is about $1,800 per set, per guy,” Yeager said.

Another big improvement over the years, Yeager said, is the increased level of training offered to firefighters.

Fortunately, Yeager said there hasn’t been a fatal fire handled by the department since he’s been a member. But there have been plenty of fatal vehicle crashes, and that is one of the toughest parts of the job.

“When you get there, you’re just not sure if you can do it or not,” he said. “You just learn to deal with it. There’s nothing worse than a car wreck that you know the person involved.”

Yeager said he has actually sent firefighters home from a scene after he became aware they had a special connection to the person being tended to at a crash site.

The fire department has also offered counseling and support groups for firemen over the years.

Looking back at his tenure as chief, Yeager said the forming of the fire protection district in 2003 was a big accomplishment, as was the construction of and move into a larger, state-of-the-art new fire station last year.

The decision to merge the city and rural fire operations came by taxpayer vote, and Yeager said it “just made sense to pool the money together into one spot.”

As for the new fire station, the litigation that halted progress at the former site of the Monroe County Nursing Home turned into a blessing, as it gave the fire district time to save money on the project.

“It worked out for the best,” Yeager said.

Yeager said Wiegand should do a fine job as chief, and he plans to assist in the changing of the guard.

Now in his final month as chief, Yeager admits he won’t miss getting up out of bed at 3 a.m. to respond to a fire call.

“My wife tells me it will be hard to stop,” he said. “I guess we’ll see.”

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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