After nearly 50 years of service, Chief Dale Lipps has announced his retirement from the Elm Valley Joint Fire District.
Lipps spent his last day on the job on Sept. 30, just five days after the 47-year anniversary of his joining the department, and he was honored with a retirement open house to see him off.
“We are deeply grateful to Chief Lipps and the many years of service he has given to our community,” Elm Valley Fire Department Chairman Steve Lewis told The Gazette. “He leaves behind a long list of accomplishments that have had a tremendous impact on the fire department and fire district. I wish him the absolute best in the next chapter of his life.”
Lipps was hired by the Elm Valley Fire Department in 1975 and progressed his way to the top of the department in 1998 when he was named chief. Along the way, Lipps was the first emergency medical technician for the department, founded the county dive rescue team, and became a fire inspector before serving as the fire chief.
“I just kept trying to improve my skillsets and eventually came to the point of becoming chief,” Lipps said of his journey to the head of the department.
Dedicating his career to public safety was a natural decision for Lipps following his graduation from Buckeye Valley High School, given his interests during his youth.
“I was an Eagle Scout, and I guess I always had an interest in public safety,” Lipps said of becoming a fireman. “The fire department was very appealing to me. We can all say it’s because we want to help people, and I think that’s part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. It’s something you have to want to do.”
Admittedly, Lipps said he figured he would serve in the role of fire chief for three or four years before moving on, and he never could have believed he would ultimately spend nearly 50 years with the department. As he reflects back on nearly five decades of service to the community, Lipps’ hope is that he simply had a positive impact on the department.
“I guess what I’d like to say is I hope I left the fire department a little bit better than what it was when I found it,” Lipps said. “One of my big things over the years was training and making sure the staff had the best training they can get. And I always tried to make sure they had as good of equipment as we could get and afford. I tried to keep everything up to date with equipment and training.”
Asked if he thinks he did, in fact, leave the department in a better place, Lipps said he believes that to be the case, citing his role in the Elm Valley Fire Department becoming a fire district just two years after he became chief and what that meant for the department.
“That gave us a separate funding source, and that was a huge, huge benefit for the district,” he said. “And I didn’t do that alone, of course. The fire board and fire board president were instrumental in making those things happen for us. But we’ve always progressively updated our equipment. We were living in a fire station that was built in 1950 that was 3,000-4,000 square feet. Now, we’re in a station that’s 13,000 square feet. Before, we used to have to buy fire trucks that would fit in our building, not trucks that could do what we needed to do. That was a big thing.”
Asked why he made the decision to retire now, Lipps called firefighting “a young man’s game,” and given that he never shied away from the physical responsibilities of being a firefighter even after becoming chief, the timing was right.
“I turned 65 years old 10 days before (retiring) … It’s time,” he said. “I knew it was time. Up until my retirement, I was still riding the truck, too. I enjoyed the hands-on part of firefighting as much as I did the administrative and command side of it.”
True to how he approached his role for 47 years, it’s the hands-on work associated with firefighting Lipps is going to miss the most in his retirement, regardless of how big or small a moment may have seemed at the time.
Lipps said, “I miss the runs. I miss the calls. I miss going out and helping people. … Some of it was simple stuff like an 80-year-old woman calling and her smoke alarms were going off. Well, they weren’t going off, the batteries were just dead. When we went out there, the detectors were all 20 years old, which means they were no good anyways. So we installed all new detectors for her. The little things seem to progressively, in my mind, make things worthwhile.”
As for what’s next, Lipps said he has big plans to do more traveling, and he’s “seriously considering” doing some volunteer work with the Red Cross to “give back to the community a little bit, or as much as I can.”
“I’ll find plenty of things to keep myself occupied. … I’m one of those people who’s afraid if I quit working, I’m going to die,” he said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.