The City of Norwood Young America honored firefighters Andy Wigfield and Robbie Baumann with an official retirement ceremony on April 11. Wigfield spent 23 years with the Norwood Young America Fire Department. Baumann spent 20, and prior to joining the NYAFD, he served for 7 years as a firefighter in New Germany.
The retirees were joined at the ceremony by their fellow members of The Department, and in an emotional farewell, they were asked to say a few words.
Wigfield, who was accompanied by his wife Julie, said for over half of his life, he’s been on the Fire Department.
Baumann, who was accompanied by his wife Paula and daughter McKenna, said when you go into a structure fire, not knowing if it will be the last, these guys are right by your side.
The city council then accepted their retirement.
So what now? Wigfield and Baumann have been fighting fires since before Y2K. Remember Y2K? The paranoia ranged from computers crashing to nuclear warheads exploding. Wigfield and Baumann remember spending the end of 1999 at their respective fire houses. They didn’t know if their equipment was going to work.
Luckily, it did. And lots of other things did too. Wigfield went on to be Captain for 17 of his 23 years with The Department. Baumann spent 9 out of his 20 years as assistant chief.
The schedule of a firefighter is unpredictable. Everyone knows that going in, but the training in the first two years can make life even more stressful. The newbies have to complete Fire Academy 1, Fire Academy 2, Hazmat, and Medical.
Baumann says, “Family gets cut short, going to drills... You miss ballgames...” He also adds, “If you can get through the training, it’s worth it.” In Baumann’s estimation, it’s worth it because of all the wonderful work you do in the community.
Wigfield says as much himself and reiterates the strain it takes on families. He said when he was first starting out, sometimes when he would get a fire call, he would have to take his young children along. “It was either that,” he said, “or I couldn’t go.”
Obviously, the children were put out of harm’s way, but back in the day, taking kids along was not all that uncommon.
In fact, Baumann can relate. He said, “That’s how I ended up wanting to be a fireman.” Baumann’s father was a fireman, and Baumann remembers, when he was a kid, watching his father fight an apartment fire and thinking, yes, this is what I want to do when I get older.
They’ve fought fires from Y2K era to the coronavirus. In that time, a lot has changed. Baumann said when he was in New Germany, the Fire Department would get 40 calls a year. When he came to Norwood Young America, in 2001, the Fire Department would get 170 calls a year. Now, the NYAFD gets 450 calls a year.
Because of increased necessity, and at the allowance of funds raised from Stiftungfest, the Norwood Young America Fire Department was one of the first in the region to get thermal imaging cameras. Thermal imaging cameras are like something out of a superhero movie – they allow you to see heat imaging from behind a wall, so you can tell where the fire is spreading, while standing on the safe side of the wall.
And, yes, we have to mention COVID, yet again, but only because the Fire Department was heroic though it all. During the final years of Wigfield’s and Baumann’s tenure, the NYAFD underwent some serious challenges. If they got a call for a medical alert, and they knew the person they were helping had COVID, only one person from The Department could go in at a time.
When that person from The Department came out, they had to put their clothes in a bag. The bags, and the clothes within them, then went for sterilization.
The turn-around process was a bit of a long time. It caused some firefighters’ gear not to be available when they had to fight fires.
Now, because of the pandemic, and the concerns associated with it, all the firefighters have two sets of gear, just in case...
Even though Wigfield and Baumann have seen a lot of chaos, neither of them would have it any other way. They both have fond memories, galore, of serving on the Fire Department, in more ways than one.
They both remember going into Central Public Schools and doing Fire Prevention Lessons. They would talk about fire safety, and then serve lunch to the students.
Baumann managed The Department’s softball team. While his record as a firefighter remains impeccable, his record as a softball coach does comes into question, but only sarcastically. I understand that while the guys were competing in a softball tournament against other regional Fire Departments, the wives and daughters were competing in a volleyball tournament against other wives and daughters in the District, and, the wives and daughters came home with a trophy, while the gentlemen did not.
So, there’s that. But all of the amazing fun they have had... Fishing in the morning, then frying the fish at Legion Park...
Wigfield used to give out some “for fun” awards. Amongst his favorites were: “The Golden Chain Award,” for firefighters who got their vehicles stuck; the “Backseat Driving Award,” which happened during a corn fire, and someone in the backseat ended up giving Wigfield driving directions; and, then finally, “The Garage Door Trophy,” for the one-and-onlies who chipped off a little of the garage door.
I’m not sure how we’re going to replace these two.