Last call for Gilly

Village pays tribute to longtime fire chief retiring with legacy of proud service

GILLY SCHULTZ (center), surrounded by Saukville Fire Department members, gestured while speaking during a reception held last week at Village Hall in honor of his retirement as fire chief. Photo by Sam Arendt

RETIRED FIRE CHIEF Gilly Schultz and Saukville Village President Barb Dickmann shared a hug during Schultz’s retirement reception. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press Staff

This Christmas will be the first in 45 years that Gilly Schultz can be sure he will be around to see his family open all their presents.

The longtime firefighter and chief of the Saukville Fire Department for the last 19 years retired this month.

At a recognition ceremony held Wednesday, Sept. 11, and attended by friends and family during the Village Board meeting, Schultz was presented with a shadow box filled with fire-fighting memorabilia and a prayer was said for him by Village President Barb Dickmann, after which Schultz wrapped an arm around her.

“I’m not an employee anymore so I can give her a hug,” Schultz said.

Calling the fire department his “second family,” Schultz noted that Wednesday was the anniversary of  the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and asked members of the department to stand.

Thanking his family, Schultz, 73, said, “There were times I had to leave for a fire call, and they had to stop opening Christmas presents.”

Schultz grew up in Milwaukee, working for his father, who was called Gill, at his gas station and auto repair shop.

Gilly still works at the shop, but now he’s working for his sons Adam, 47, and Chad, 43, who own the business near Capitol and Teutonia avenues.

“It’s a great thing to work for your sons,” he said.

Schultz moved his family in October 1974 to Saukville and in less than a year his career as a firefighter began.

“I worked almost every day but was off on Saturday, and I had two neighbors who were in the fire department. One Saturday, I was talking to one of them, and he said I should volunteer,” Schultz said.

Wanting to give back to the community, Schultz went to see the then-fire chief, Paul Albinger Sr., on a Saturday at Albinger’s Garage.

Recalled Schultz: “I told him I was afraid of heights, and he told me I’d be in charge of basement fires. ‘See you Monday,’” when a members meeting was scheduled.

That Monday was a baptism by fire for Schultz as a barn blaze on Highway W was called in during the meeting.

“At first it was pretty scary,” he said. “Back then, you didn’t have to go through all the training, so there I was holding the hose and everyone telling me what to do.”

During the Village Hall reception, Schultz said he was hoping he’d go out in a blaze of glory and have an epic story to tell about his last fire call.

“I was at a wedding when a call came in that a woman smelled smoke in her house,” he said. “When I got there, it turned out to be a cigarette in a planter and a firefighter was dousing it with a garden hose.”

It’s the nature of firefighting that the most memorable fires are often the most tragic.

Asked what his most memorable calls were, Schultz quickly mentioned the Martin family farm fire in the early morning of April 7, 1984, on Mink Ranch Road.

The three Martin children, aged 6, 5 and 18 months, were killed while they slept in their first floor bedroom.

The fire started in a wood stove while their parents were in the barn doing chores.

The Saukville department was first on the scene and doused the room with water and tried to break in, but the inferno was too fierce.

Firefighter Jim Schlegel, who retired in June as assistant chief, suffered burns to his neck and chest from melting tar in that fire, according to an Ozaukee Press article.

“I can still see it today,” Schultz said.

Another call that’s difficult to forget occurred in May 2012, when Saukville firefighter Tim Karrels, 36, started a fire at his Saukville home and took his own life.

“That basically took our department down,” Schultz said. “It was really hard for us on that one. But you know we went through it with the support of other departments in the county.”

Schultz was promoted to chief in 2000, which he called exciting but “a little scary.”

“There was always the thought that you’re in charge of all these people. You wanted to do it the right way and make sure nobody got hurt,” he said.

Schultz said there was very little that needed to be changed when he became chief.

“It was a great department,” he said.

Among his accomplishments, Schultz said he’s most proud of starting a fire department auxiliary to support the firefighters on calls.

“The Red Cross used to be big and would bring sandwiches and water to fire scenes, things like that. Then it faded in the late ’90s,” he said.  “I wanted to bring that back.”

Schultz said he asked Tim and Dorothy Fuller to start an auxiliary.

“I thought it would be great if we could get four or five people involved,” he said. “In a week, we got 20 people. That auxiliary has been unbelievable for us.”

Through the years, some auxiliary members became firefighters, Schultz said.

Another of his accomplishments as chief was creating the Junior Firefighters, where teenagers assist the department and receive training.

Besides working for his sons, Schultz has a collection of cars that he cherishes, although the collection has shrunk to just four.

“The insurance is what kills you,” he said.

Among his proudest possessions is his father’s 1954 Pontiac Chieftain, with just 16,000 miles on it, and a silver 1969 GTO, one of only 28 that were made, that’s in the shop after it was totaled last year from a run-in with a horse on Highway H.

Schultz is looking forward to spending more time with his four sons, two daughters and nine grandchildren.

He said he plans on traveling for a bit and then wants to become active in the fire department auxiliary.

“You don’t know what a great privilege it’s been” to be chief, he said. “I’d like to still help out.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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