By Stephen Floyd
Longtime Mt. Angel Fire District volunteer Don Seiler has earned a chance to sit out this coming fire season.
The 36-year veteran and former assistant fire chief still supports fellow firefighters as an honorary member, but has officially retired from the district as of Feb. 5.
“I miss going to the calls and stuff, maybe not so much the nighttime calls,” said Seiler. “I do miss the guys and the gals that are in the department, and it’s definitely a good group of people.”
Seiler joined MAFD in 1986 when Vic Hoffer Sr. was fire chief. He said his first major fire response was a blaze that destroyed a swimming pool at Mount Angel Abbey.
“That’s where we used to all go (for) swimming lessons, but the Abbey never did rebuild it,” he said.
He spent the next three-and-a-half decades serving in roles including equipment captain and division chief before being appointed assistant fire chief by Don Fleck, former fire chief and current mayor of Mt. Angel. Seiler also served under former chiefs Joe Traeger and Darin Unrein and current Chief Jim Trierweiler. He said he holds these men in high esteem.
It wasn’t until late in his volunteer career that Seiler responded to a fire that would really stick with him – the old Wilco building caught fire on Oct. 9, 2021. Even with more than 100 firefighters applying around one million gallons of water to the blaze, firefighters had no choice but to let the conflagration burn itself out.
“I just knew that we were going to be in for the long haul, there wasn’t going to be enough water to put it out, you could tell from the beginning,” he said. “…That was an intense fire. I’ll never forget that one.”
There were also memorable moments outside of emergency responses, including when Seiler and a colleague traveled to Appleton, Wisconsin, to pick up a new water tender. They drove the rig all the way back to Mt. Angel and, even though they took time to stop along the way and enjoy the local flavor, he said they still made it back “in record time.”
“That was a unique trip,” he said.
There’s debate about whether or not Seiler’s departure sets a record for years served with the district. Seiler says 36 years is the longest on paper, but he’s sure he can think of others who served just as long or longer. John Rossi, MAFD public information officer, said Seiler’s long tenure with the district – record-setting or otherwise – left him with a wealth of knowledge and experience that other volunteers could depend on.
“He was a good leader. People liked following him,” said Rossi.
He said it is difficult for MAFD and districts throughout the country to find volunteers like Seiler anymore, who are able to juggle firefighting and other responsibilities long-term. Seiler said he was fortunate enough to have a flexible job allowing him to man the station during the daytime, and to have a wife who held down the fort at home.
“I take my hat off to my wife Kathy because what she did all those years was very commendable,” he said. “You have to have somebody at home who is rock solid. It definitely makes it easier on you if you do.”
Seiler said spending more time at home has been a welcome change, but not running to help with a fire when he hears sirens has taken some getting used to.
“I see the calls on Pulse Point, and you can still see what’s going on, but not responding is definitely strange for me,” he said.
Seiler is still invited to MAFD social events as an honorary member, and on April 2 was honored for his years of service during the district’s annual awards banquet.
His son, Dean Seiler, was also among firefighters recognized that night with the Chief’s Award.