Assisting the community brings pride and contentment
Surrey Ridge resident Gary Knapp became a firefighter at the Castlewood Fire Protection District in 1972. Later, he joined two other Colorado fire districts, KODAK Fire Department in Windsor and Westminster Fire Department, where he retired.
Over the years, Castlewood, along with five other fire districts, became part of South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR).
“Working with fellow firefighters and forging a bond with them was a great experience,” noted Knapp. “These relationships were further solidified when SMFR decided a year ago to host retiree luncheons twice a year for retired firefighters from all of the joined fire districts – so we can all get together.”
The luncheons are attended by many and the groups enjoy reminiscing and catching up with each other. “It is great to be part of the event with so many colleagues that are on the ‘same page’ so to speak,” said Knapp. “We all have been in so many different situations over the years,” he laughed. “We don’t remember them all.”
Knapp affirmed that being a firefighter involves mental, emotional and physical acuity. “When firefighters jump into a fire truck, they are going into the unknown and must be totally prepared,” he added. “Firefighters experience some happyendings and some tragic ones.”
A call that Knapp responded to several years ago could have ended terribly, but thankfully he was able to save a fellowfirefighter. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the rescue. The award means a lot to Knapp, but he admitted he was only doing his job.
“You never know what a call will involve,” he shared. He recalled three different, happy-ending emergencies where he delivered three babies. And, when asked, he tells people, “yes,” to rescuing cats in trees, not to mention, baby ducks out of a drainpipe.
While some calls are easy, others cause distress for everyone involved. Throughout their careers, firefighters respond to many traumatic scenes. Memories of these instances can trigger emotions later in life and in retirement. SMFR fortunately offers retirees complimentary access to its Peer Support & EAP Benefits for those who struggle with mental health issues.
“Knowing that we have access to a mental health program is reassuring,” stated Knapp. “Over the years many firefighters encounter devastating circumstances, and knowing there is help for retired firefighters is a tremendous benefit; SMFR is first rate.”
Knapp has been married to his very talented wife, Mary, for 47 years. They have three grown daughters, Hollie, Heather and Heidi. He grins and boasts that their grandchildren are fifth generation Coloradoans.
Knapp’s prized possession is an exquisite quilt Mary stitched together featuring the firefighting memorabilia he has collected over the years. Describing each treasured and historic square on the quilt, Knapp beams – not only at the work of art, but at Mary too.
A lucky man, Knapp is happy to be retired, living in a cozy home and states, “I am extremely proud that I became a firefighter.”
Article and photos by Patte Smith