Schommer turns over department to Weyker after 22 years at helm
Brian Schommer led the Fredonia Fire Department for nearly 22 years, and during that time he never lost his appreciation for the importance of the job.
“It is something I have really enjoyed and a great way to give back to your community,” Schommer said prior to stepping down as fire chief on Dec. 31.
You might argue it was only natural he became active with the fire department, since firefighting is something of a family tradition.
His father Ron was honored in 2008 for serving 50 years with the fire department. He died in 2015.
Schommer’s uncle Roman was another longtime department member. His brother John and cousin “Fuzzy” are still active members.
“At one point, there were seven Schommers on the department but I never felt pressured into joining,” Schommer said. He has been a member of the department for three decades.
Although he is giving up the chief’s position, Schommer said he plans to continue volunteering with the department.
Taking over as fire chief is Brian Weyker, who had been the department’s first assistant chief and coincidentally is Schommer’s brother-in-law.
“Brian and (Second Assistant Chief) Chris Kunstmann both applied for the chief’s position, and either would have been a good choice,” Schommer said after the Village Board selected Weyker for the post.
“I know Brian is going to do an excellent job.”
Although he is close to Weyker, Schommer said he wants to avoid interfering with how the new chief does his job.
“I plan on laying back, not looking over Brian’s shoulder with every move. He should feel he can run the department the way he thinks it should be done,” Schommer said.
While he enjoyed the camaraderie and feeling of being a part of the community, he said he won’t miss some aspects of the chief’s job.
“Over the years, there has been a lot more regulation and paperwork involved in being the chief. I still enjoy being a firefighter but the management end got to be too much,” Schommer said.
Schommer said he has some regrets about leaving before the first shovel is turned on the planned fire station renovation, but he is confident the facility will be built.
“The industry standard for fire equipment keeps getting bigger, and we are running out of room at the station,” he said.
Schommer has been part of the committee that has worked with village officials in planning the expansion.
Finding the bodies needed to operate the equipment will continue to be a challenge for the department, as it is for all smaller communities with volunteer departments.
Having few employers in Fredonia makes it especially difficult to have firefighters readily available during the day, Schommer said.
In his case, a fire call means he has to leave the endless chores at his farm on Highway 57.
“I can see a time when there may be a need to have a full-time chief even in a community like Fredonia,” Schommer said.
“We had a recruitment event in October and got very little reaction. There were two people who were interested —one from the Town of Fredonia and the other from Belgium.”
An Explorer program has introduced some new blood to the department, but he said there is no guarantee the young people being trained now will stick with the department when they enter the working world.
Training to become even an entry-level firefighter is much more demanding than it was when Schommer first started with the department. He noted basic firefighter training has increased from 48 hours to 120 hours.
Of the many fire calls he has responded to, Schommer had no trouble recalling the most memorable — and gruesome — of his lengthy career.
“It was shortly after I became chief and we were sent to a car fire in Waubedonia Park,” he said.
“That simple car fire turned out to be a murder-suicide where a mother had killed her two children and herself. That was something you are never prepared for.”
As for future fire calls, Schommer said he is looking forward to blending into the background with other firefighters.
“I won’t be sticking out, wearing the white chief’s helmet anymore,” he said.
Image Information: WITH THE START of a new year, Brian Weyker (left) has assumed duties as the chief of the Fredonia Fire Department. His brother-in-law, Brian Schommer (right), led the department for the last 22 years. Photo by Sam Arendt