Hanging up his helmet
After 35 years with the Gypsum Fire Protection District, chief Dave Vroman is hanging up his helmet. His retirement party is set for Saturday, Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. at the firehouse in Gypsum.
The Gypsum Fire Protection District consists of Station 13 – Dotsero; Station 14 – Gypsum; and Station 23 – Sweetwater. It’s a combination department of paid and volunteer members. There are five paid firefighters, one paid administration specialist and forty-six volunteers to handle all alarms and administration needs. Vroman was instrumental in founding and improving the district during his 35 years at its helm.
While Vroman has spent most of his professional life in this valley, he grew up on a ranch located between Wyoming and Colorado with property on both sides of the state line. After attending a community college and the University of Wyoming, during which time he volunteered for two separate fire districts, he went to work full time in the oil industry during in the early 1970s. He ultimately met his wife Terry and the couple were married in 1978. In 1979, the Vromans made the move to Eagle County where and their three children were born. Vroman initially went to work with crews building Interstate 70, but ‘79 was also the year when he started working with Gypsum fire and for the next three years, he assisted with the formation of the district.
“Chief Vroman was pivotal on bringing the department from a volunteer to a combination origination department,” said fire board member Tammy Conway.
In 1982-83, Vroman helped build the station on Second Street in Gypsum and he was promoted to chief in the spring of 1984. In 1990, he became the first paid officer for the district.
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Equity in the ranks
One of the first projects Vroman worked on in the late 1970s was to consolidate the operation’s fire department and its women’s brigade.
“The Gypsum Fire Department is unique in that we have always valued equality here,” said Vroman. “Women in the fire service have existed here since World War II.”
Vroman said that in Gypsum, ‘the brotherhood’ is most definitely a non-gender term that includes many of the sisters. His wife, Terri, Karla Taylor and Nettie Reynolds served in the department for 25 years each.
“Nettie (Reynolds) was my deputy chief for several years until her retirement,” said Vroman.
Those who work with Vroman describe a family man who deeply cares for everyone at the station and in the community. He often reminded other firefighters to treat community members as if they were family members.
Another big emphasis that comes from Vroman is safety. “Safety is our most important function because our firefighters are our most important asset,” said Vroman.
Firefighters say that Vroman is not only a stickler for safety, he insists that the job gets done, and gets done right.
“Chief Vroman is about completing the mission and his leadership is based entirely on adjusting for the fluctuations that life throws at you,” said firefighter Daniel Valdez.
“He wasn’t afraid to crawl hallways, dig line, or roll hose,” said Valdez. “He was always doing the dirty work with the rest of us.”
The word that most comes to mind when talking to those who know Vroman well is ‘passion.”
“Chief Dave Vroman has been a passionate leader of the department,” said board member Patrick Johnson. “His knowledge of the fire service is broad and deep.”
Buried in paper
As he contemplates his retirement, Vroman said one of the things he won’t miss is paperwork.
“You spend more time writing up a proposal, getting approval, and writing a report about the results than the project took to actually do,” said Vroman.
“Look at it from an old fire guy point of view — the alarms drop, we go into service in two to three minutes, we get the job done, we go home, simple,” he said. “Responding is easy, projects are tough.”
Valdez said the chief was great about not over-complicating things with trails of paper.
“At 3 a.m. when the taxpayer is waiting for you they don’t want your paper or concerns of vicarious liability. They want water to put the fire out,” said Valdez.
Vroman is excited to embrace life outside of the fire service and his plans include spoiling his four grandkids, spending more time fishing and enjoying his family without interruptions.
Although he’s ready for this next chapter, Vroman will always hold the time he spent as a firefighter and chief close to his heart.
“Mentoring these young men and women to be the best has been my goal every day,” he said.
He will miss the camaraderie around the station and also the challenge of each alarm.
Vroman said that one of the rewards of being a firefighter is being there on someone’s worst day and making a difference. And as a chief? “Helping a brand new boot (firefighter) get to a level of competency they never thought they could do,” he said.
As he looks forward to retirement, Vroman can look back at a career well spent.
“This is truly the best job in the world,” he said.