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Assistant fire chief retires after 32 years

Tenure included tragedy, professional growth and more

July 6, 2011

Assistant Fire Chief Mike Anton will retire Friday after more than 32 years serving the city.

As the longest-serving member of the Wauwatosa Fire Department, he has worked under four chiefs, moved up in the ranks from firefighter to command staff, watched the city grow and firefighting change.

He intended to become a teacher, but a school counselor discouraged that pursuit. Reading a book written by a New York City firefighter inspired his choice.

"That was it. That was what I wanted to do," Anton said. "The whole idea of being a firefighter was just a thrill a minute."

Donald Bloedorn helmed the department when Anton joined.

"He was always there, up for the challenge," Bloedorn said of Anton. "He is an excellent firefighter, always willing to help."

Over the decades, many of the house fires and car accidents have blurred in his memory, but there are incidents that stand out.

The memory he won't ever shake: Two firefighters were killed in a fire at Alioto's in August 1981, a little more than two years after he started with the department. It was an instant reminder of the danger of the job and led to a stronger focus on technique and safety training.

"That event put a whole new meaning into what I was doing," Anton said. "When you're young, you don't recognize fully all the risks involved in this job."

After 10 years with the department, he was promoted to training chief under Chief Don Peckl. When Peckl retired 15 years ago, Anton spent a year as acting chief until Dean Redman was hired. He again took the helm for a few months after Redman left in January.

Each chief gave him an opportunity to develop his leadership skills and take on new responsibilities. Under Redman, he became an assistant chief and helped make changes that increased management's productivity, integrated new equipment, cut costs and built the paramedic program.

Wauwatosa has some challenges because of its mix of residential neighborhoods, hospitals, a large mall and major manufacturers. During the day the population surges, and with that comes more medical emergencies and traffic crashes.

In addition, firefighters handle hazardous materials, conduct confined space, water and high-angle rescues, and extricate trapped people from cars.

"The responsibilities are complex and dangerous, and time is always of the essence," he said.

The biggest change has been a shift in focus to emergency medical services, which make up about 80 percent of all the department's calls.

When Anton's son, Matt, made the decision to become a firefighter, his father strongly encouraged him to get paramedic training as soon as possible. Matt took that advice and found an aspect of the job he truly enjoys but likely would have put off without the push from dad.

The opportunity to work with his son - who was hired with four other recruits five years ago - is the main reason Anton stayed on even though he was eligible for retirement three years ago.

"He cares for people but he expects a lot as far as job performance goes," Matt Anton said.

His father has worked at the Fire Department all his life, and from the time he was a child he remembers tagging along and watching his dad at work.

"I'm going to miss working with him, but he's really got me off to a good start," Matt Anton said.

In his retirement at age 56, the assistant chief plans to keep active by officiating school sports, volunteering, traveling with wife Linda, visiting his five children and one grandchild, and caring for a new puppy.

He also will join a group of 25 to 30 Wauwatosa fire retirees that meet quarterly to keep up the camaraderie they all miss.

Saying goodbye

The following Wauwatosa employees have retired or given their notice to end their service to the city in 2011.

Mike Anton, assistant fire chief, 32 years

Ron Braier, finance director, 27 years

Shawn Duffy, assistant library director, 24 years

Robert Kind, firefighter/paramedic, 29 years

Ellen Krueger, public health nurse, 13 years

Don Morgan, fleet mechanic, 37 years

Dean Redman, fire chief, 14 years

Marilyn Swanson, public health nurse, 20 years

Sala Townsend, sign technician, 11 years

Darrick Vormann, street equipment operator, 11 years

J.J. Wellman, municipal clerk in the Treasurer's Office, 31 years

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