Veteran volunteer of 27 years will continue to serve, hands over leadership reins to Tony Van Wyk
After over 15 years as fire chief of the Sully Fire Department, Mike Vander Molen has decided to step back and hand over the reins to new leadership. Tony Van Wyk was elected chief at the Monday, Feb. 27, meeting. His term was effective immediately and runs in two-year increments as voted by department members. Van Wyk has been part of the department for nearly 17 years and has served as the EMS captain and training officer.
For outgoing chief Vander Molen, his service to the department spans 27 years. He joined the department in 1996, with his EMT certification the following year.
“I had decided to quit driving over the road and to try and stay around home more. Some time after that decision, about three different people approached me in about two weeks’ time that I should consider joining the fire department,” said Vander Molen. “I don’t remember ever thinking about it before that, but I did it.”
Looking back at nearly three decades of being part of the department, Vander Molen said it has been entirely rewarding.
“It can and will be tremendously rewarding at times. It will also be a lot of work – taking time and dedication. To those thinking about joining, I would highly recommend it,” said Vander Molen.
But it isn’t always easy, Vander Molen admits, “It will be extremely painful at times, especially mentally and emotionally. You will see horrible things as well as beautiful things. It’s really hard to put into words what this experience has meant to me.”
“There are so many memories; some good and some bad. One of my strongest memories is during a Fourth of July parade (I’m not sure of the year) where there were several neighboring communities’ fire trucks in the parade. All of the trucks were on the square, filling most of three sides, when the parade stopped and there was a moment of silence to honor the lives of firefighters who had lost their lives. Even with all the people at the parade, the entire square fell quiet. That was something,” added Vander Molen.
In his years on the department, Vander Molen has witnessed a lot of changes – especially with technology and the increased cost of equipment and the many regulations and requirements to be a volunteer – but many things stay the same: “Fire is still fire and can be dangerous, that will never change. Accidents still happen. People still need help for medical reasons, injuries, or because of an accident of some kind. The need for first responders will always be there,” he said.
While Vander Molen has retired as chief, he will remain part of the volunteer department, maintain his EMT certification, and will be an active member on fire and ambulance service.
Congratulations on your time as fire chief, Mike. The Sully community thanks you for your service. And congratulations to the new chief, Tony Van Wyk!
A note from Mike Vander Molen:
There are so many things and people to be thankful for during my time on the fire and ambulance department and my time as fire chief. These are in no particular order, because there are no things or people that are more important than another.
I’ll start with the department members themselves. Obviously, there wouldn’t be a department at all without people who are willing to be responders. We are very blessed in Sully, as well as the rest of Jasper County and the counties around us, to have people who are willing to dedicate their time and effort to do this. It is not easy with all the requirements and continuously changing rules to keep up with – especially to volunteer. Most people think of volunteering as not getting paid. I think I can speak for most everyone on the department when I say we don’t do it for the money. But, we do get “paid” every time we get a sincere “thank you.”
Next, let’s not forget about the responders’ families that allow them to give their time to the department. Of course, there is no time schedule for when the pager might go off and someone needs help. Responders’ families learn really quickly that their loved one could leave at any time during a meal, birthday party, nap, or middle of the night. Most times, the responder is out the door before the family even knows what the call is for. They don’t have any idea how long it will take, what they will have to see or deal with, or even what kind of mood they will be in when they come back. They just know someone needs help of some kind and their loved one is willing to give that help. They pray their family member will come back and be okay.
We cannot forget to thank the entire community that supports us so faithfully and generously in so many different ways. This can be by donating money, helping with equipment such as for a field fire, helping to move snow or clear roads in the wintertime, or to help pull us out of the mud, etc. There are so many ways. All the responders have full-time jobs that they need to leave at times when the pager goes off. We can’t thank these employers enough for allowing their employees leave at any time for any amount of time to respond to the call. We are very blessed for the community support we have in Sully and surrounding communities. Thank you!
We also want to thank all those that came before us to start the department and keep it going all these years. There are a lot of departments out there that struggle in different ways because of the way they are governed – or any number of reasons. When you think back to some of the forethought the founders and members had to have, it is quite impressive.
I hope our small-town volunteer department can thrive in the future as it has survived in the past. It’s one of those things that can be easily taken for granted, and you don’t realize what you have until it is gone. I’m not sure how many of you realize how blessed we are in Jasper County when it comes to first responders – especially with EMS (ambulance) providers. There are 10 fire departments in Jasper County, and eight of them have ambulance services. A few of them have more than one ambulance. This means everyone has an ambulance service fairly close to them. There are a lot of counties in Iowa with only one ambulance service. Think of the difference in wait time for help to arrive if you need it!
I would like to challenge you to keep supporting and pay attention to what’s going on, especially in the EMS world right now and in the future. If you haven’t heard about whether or not EMS should be an “essential service,” you probably will in the future. If you have questions, please don’t be afraid to reach out and ask someone who is involved in some way.
I would like to thank each and every one of you for supporting your local fire and ambulance department in whatever way you do. As a department, we will do our best to support you right back.