Retiring Hayden fire chief reflects on emotional career
January 31, 2014
Hayden — The photos that line the walls inside the West Routt Fire Protection District headquarters help illustrate Bryan Rickman's storied career — the highs and the lows.
Looking at the horrific crash photos, it is hard to believe anyone survived. Several people did not.
"You look at these pictures, and it brings back thoughts and memories of what you do," Rickman said.
Rickman's last day of his 39-year career with the department was Friday, and he is looking forward to spending his first summer of retirement riding his BMW touring motorcycle across the country.
"Having the wind in my face is what I really like," Rickman said. "It's a whole different way of life than riding in a vehicle."
Rickman, a 1972 Hayden High School graduate, joined the department in 1974, and in 1990, he was hired on as the district first full-time chief.
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"It's pretty strange," Rickman said. "When you've been doing this for really 40 years, it's strange to think that tomorrow's going to be different. It turned into quite a career, for sure."
A retirement party is being held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Being an emergency responder in a small community like Hayden can be a very personal job. All too often, Rickman was called to help save the lives of friends and others he had known for years. He recalled once when the EMS assistant chief had a heart attack and passed away.
"That was probably one of the hardest calls that I ever had to run, and I think about that a lot," Rickman said.
During his career, Rickman delivered two babies, and last year they graduated from kindergarten and high school.
"Those were some of the best calls, without a doubt," Rickman said.
The proudest moment of his career also involved someone he was close to. When one of the fire district's founding board members had a heart attack, two EMTs who Rickman had trained responded to try and save Jim Funk's life. They succeeded, and Funk lived another 12 years.
"I was so proud of those two guys," Rickman said.
Another memorable moment came in December 2010 when Rickman and Assistant Chief Dal Leck responded to a head-on crash on U.S. Highway 40. A piece of Michelle Dunklin's car had impaled her, and Rickman made the decision to remove Dunklin as quickly as possible, even though it meant ignoring standard protocol. Leck said it was the kind of decision that comes with years of experience.
"If he hadn't of made that decision, I don't think she would have made it," Leck said.
Leck, who has been with department for 21 years, said it is hard to think that Rickman is retiring.
"He's always taught me something from Day 1 to even now," Leck said.
Leck has applied to be the new chief along with firefighter Dustin Williams. A consultant is helping with the search for a replacement.
Ross Fralick, current president of the fire district's board, said Rickman's retirement was bittersweet.
"He's definitely earned his retirement," Fralick said. "He's given his life to West Routt fire."
Fralick said Rickman is leaving the department in great shape, especially given voters in November approved more funding for the district. Rickman played a big part in making that happen, Fralick said.
"He fought for something he really believed in … and he got to hire two new full-time EMTs," Fralick said. "He left a legacy and is going out on a big success."
Rickman said the additional funding will help allow the district to continue being successful in the future.
"You surround yourself with good people, and you are going to have great outcomes, and we have some tremendous people in the department," Rickman said.