- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

D.C. Deputy Fire Chief Frank S. Tremel Jr. has seen decades of the city’s history firsthand — from President Kennedy’s funeral procession to the riots in the summer of 1968 to nearly a dozen presidential inaugurations, countless marches and protests, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

So it was a bit strange for Chief Tremel, 64, on Friday when he walked down the stairs of his home in uniform for what would be his last day on the job after 43 years of service.

“Look at me now, because this is the last time I do this,” Chief Tremel told his wife.

Chief Tremel, who is the longest-serving firefighter in the department, officially retired Friday. His is thought to be the second-longest tenure in the department’s history.

“It’s a weird feeling, but it’s time,” Chief Tremel said.

Now, all that’s left is the retirement dinner tomorrow. It will be his third retirement dinner in the past week, a testament to the esteem in which he is held.

Chief Tremel, who never has lived more than 30 miles from the District, was born at Providence Hospital, grew up in Southeast and went to Suitland High School.

He lives on a 10-acre farm in Owensville, Md., where he is a breeder of a rare American show horse. He also collects and refurbishes antique fire equipment and rides a tractor a little more than he would like.

When he joined the fire department in August 1962, he had been a volunteer firefighter for six years in District Heights. His D.C. salary was $5,160 per year before taxes.

He says the equipment has changed over the years.

When he started, fire engines had windshields but no doors and no roofs. Helmets were made of aluminum — which absorbs heat — and turnout gear was made of canvas — which is flammable.

But he said the firefighters haven’t changed much.

“I think we still have the same type of dedication, the same feeling we had in 1962,” Chief Tremel said. “It’s like family.”

Firefighting is in his family.

Chief Tremel’s grandfather was a D.C. firefighter, too, back when steam engines were mounted on the backs of horse-drawn wagons. His grandfather retired in 1925, the year the city retired the horse-drawn wagons.

His father went to work for a phone company, but he still was a volunteer firefighter who helped organize the District Heights station in Prince George’s County during World War II.

During a phone interview Friday with 1 hours left in his career, Chief Tremel recounted his earliest memory of the fire service.

He remembered riding with his father on a 1927 fire engine that the volunteers would take to people’s houses to pick up newspaper or metal scraps that they could sell to support the fire department.

“It’s interesting. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve done a lot of things,” he said.

When people asked why he stayed on the job so long, he said he told them: “‘The truth of the matter is I’m doing what I always wanted to do.’”

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