Local man spent 31 years with fire department.

Well over 30 years ago, Kenny Tauer returned home from his time in the service and began getting pestered by his neighbor, Ronny Fischer, to join the Sleepy Eye Fire Department.

Fischer’s persistence paid off, and after 31 years of service to the community of Sleepy Eye, Tauer retired from the department on Oct. 13, 2011. He was honored by his fellow firefighters with a plaque and celebration at the department’s annual get-together Sunday evening.

“It put tears in my eyes tonight,” Tauer said regarding the celebration. “The guys are fantastic.”

Tauer began his time with the Sleepy Eye Fire Department on June 2, 1980. First working as the building’s caretaker, Tauer eventually filled the roles of second and first assistant chief during his time as a firefighter.

Despite his success filling various positions within the department, Tauer was never above doing things like cleaning up after a fire department event. “He did not let his titles go to his head,” said Fire Chief Tom Moldaschel.

While thinking about his time with the department, many events came to Tauer’s mind that will be with him forever. “They just don’t go out of your mind,” he said. “You can handle fires more so than rescue calls.”

One particular incident Tauer will never forget took place on Christmas Eve many years ago. Just a rookie with the department, Tauer responded to a trailer house that was on fire.

He and one of his fellow firefighters went into the home but were thrown to the ground by a huge blast. Tauer’s helmet was knocked off his head, and he wasn’t able to retrieve it from the burning building. “The whole trailer was engulfed in flames,” he recalled.
Tauer responded to many fires like this throughout his time with the department, and thanks to his hard work, many homes and lives have been saved.

Over the course of 31 years, Tauer said that things have changed significantly at the fire department. Specifically, protective gear for the firefighters has evolved tremendously with countless improvements.

Gear like thermal imaging cameras have been added to make the job of a firefighter a little safer. “Technology is a lot greater now than it was back when I started,” Tauer explained.

However, Tauer emphasized that technology isn’t foolproof. He said that nothing can beat long hours spent in safety training. Working as both training officer and safety officer during his time with the department, Tauer’s hard work has benefited the department tremendously.

After all, when it comes down to it, Tauer said that his fellow fighters are like a second family to him. “It’s just a big family,” he said. “You’re banking on the guy behind you to protect you.”

Other than his relationships with his fellow firemen, Tauer acknowledged that his wife Darlene has played a huge role in his success as a firefighter.

The two have been together for over 37 years, and Tauer said there have been many nights when Darlene faithfully laid out his clothes, turned on lights and opened doors for him during late night fire calls.

Tauer added that all the married firefighters owe a debt of gratitude to their wives for their faithful help. “I think all the women are related to [the work of the fire department],” he said.

In addition to his wife and fellow firefighters, Tauer emphasized that the community of Sleepy Eye has been immensely helpful in his time as a firefighter. He said that local residents have supported the department financially in many ways over the years.

“We have to thank the community, too,” Tauer said. “The organizations in this town are just phenomenal.”

For example, one of Tauer’s goals before retiring was to see the department get a new grass rig. Working on a committee to raise the funds and secure the truck, Tauer helped the department get the new rig a few years ago, thanks to the community’s support.
In the end, however, Tauer’s greatest memories with the fire department go back to the men he has served with over the years. Tauer said that the men are much more than just coworkers – they are heavily involved in each other’s lives outside the department as well.

He added that they definitely aren’t serious all the time, either. Tauer joked that the gray hairs on his head are thanks to his fellow firefighters. “I don’t have any kids, so it’s thanks to you guys,” he said.