About 15 years ago, Cloquet Area Fire District firefighters Gordy Meagher and Kevin Schroeder were searching a burning house for anyone left inside.
Meagher bumped into something in the pitch black room and warned Schroeder there was a couch they needed to move around.
“I’m going over it,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder stumbled across the couch and met Meagher on the other side, leaving his partner baffled.
“I asked him, ‘Why the hell did you do that,’” Meagher recalled. “He’s never answered me and I’ve asked him more than one time. We were searching for somebody, you know, and it was hot in there and it was dark, we couldn't see anything and he goes over it.”
Schroeder says the reason Meagher doesn’t have an answer is because there isn’t one.
“I couldn’t tell you to this day why I did it,” Schroeder said. “But I can tell you I fell on my face and ended up looking like a fool.”
Schroeder and Meagher have a long list of stories they’ve collected over 20 years of working together as Schroeder has risen to lead CAFD and Meagher became a battalion chief. Their time together at the department is coming to a close, though, with Schroeder, 53, retiring Saturday, June 26.
Schroeder has been part of the CAFD since 1988 and has served as chief for the past nine years. He was honored by the CAFD Board during its meeting Wednesday, June 17, for 32 years of service to the district.
Schroeder first became a firefighter for the Scanlon Volunteer Department when he was 17.
“I think what originally drew it to me was my father was a volunteer when I was growing up,” he said. “I used to follow him as a kid just to look at the trucks and all the stuff. Apparently, it stuck.”
After high school, Schroeder received a fire technology degree from Lake Superior College in Duluth and a fire administration degree from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
During his 32 years with the department, Schroeder transformed himself along with his department. He became a paramedic when advanced life support services were added to the department and it grew from serving just Cloquet to also include Scanlon, Perch Lake and the Fond du Lac Reservation.
“I've always been a student of my profession,” Schroeder said. “I happen to be in a job that can hurt or kill me. So I've always thought the more I could learn, the better off I would be.”
Schroeder has also advocated on behalf of the district at both the state and federal levels as he took on a more administrative role later in his career.
There’s also been a huge change in safety and technology. When Schroeder first started in Scanlon he was still standing on the back of a fire truck responding to calls.
“We were sitting in open cab trucks and now we’re running four-door apparatus with full crash restraints and airbags in our fire trucks,” he said. And you go from hip high rubber boots to now we're running state of the art personal protective gear. Just the changes over the years is amazing.”
Among his career highlights, Schroeder lists the two babies he’s delivered in his career, as well as the “handful of people” he’s rescued from fires or resuscitated from cardiac arrest.
On the other side, he said being from the Cloquet area has made his job at times even harder.
“It's been one of the privileges of my life to serve my hometown,” Schroeder said. “But you know people, you end up responding to family friends. That's hard. It's one thing to deal with tragedy with a stranger, it's another to deal with people you know and see every day.”
Schroeder said he doesn’t have many big plans for retirement, but he hopes to spend more time with his wife, Mary, and to explore the outdoors.
“Mary and I just sat down here a little over a year ago and decided, ‘You know, we can't make more time,’” Schroeder said. “She was a nurse in town and just retired this month. I've been doing this, and we've been serving other people's needs for decades. So we said, ‘Let's start looking at what else is available out there.’”
Meagher said he thought 36 years of service was plenty and wished his old friend the best in the future.
“I’m going to miss him a lot, but I’m happy for him and Mary,” Meagher said. “They’re both still healthy enough where they can go out and enjoy whatever they encounter in their retirement ... He’s earned his retirement, he deserves it.”