New Grand Lake Fire Chief brings wealth of public service experience to new position
Grand Lake’s new Fire Chief, Kevin Ratzmann, is not a man of pretenses.
As he sat down for a brief breakfast on his first official day as chief of the Grand Lake Fire Protection District Ratzmann was filled with a calm excitement and a mind bursting with ideas.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he said. “I am ready to come in and help make this place awesome. I want to capitalize on the assets we already have and provide the best service we can to this community. The stations are in great condition. The trucks are in great shape and the team has pride. It is great to see that.”
As he gears up for his new role as head of firefighting efforts in northeastern Grand County Ratzmann is forming plans for his department with an eye towards serving the needs of local citizens, whatever those needs may be.
“I told my guys this morning, if you go on a lift assist to help an elderly person don’t just get them up and leave,” he said. “Take some time to talk, make sure they are good to go, make sure they have food in the fridge. If you see a little old lady stuck on the side of the road stop and help her. There is the whole liability thing but I think we can come up with something to address that.”
Ratzmann highlighted a smoke detector battery-changing program that was implemented at a fire department he worked at in Florida that was surrounded by retirement communities.
“This community’s median age is 70,” Ratzmann said. “My guys can get up there and change those so people don’t fall. This is something I learned in Florida. We would do thousands of battery changes.”
Ratzmann, with a light Irish complexion and a youthful face, was born and raised in the humid streets of Miami and on the waters of nearby Lake Okeechobee. He is a US Army veteran, a former defense contractor who spent time in Afghanistan, a one-time corrections officer and a firefighter with two decades of experience in public service.
“I grew up on farms running tractors, but also living in a major city,” he said. “It has helped me with people and allows me to walk into any situation and be comfortable.”
Ratzmann served as a combat engineer and combat medic in the US Army from 1995 through 2001, reaching the rank of Sergeant before leaving for civilian life. After his time in the military he became a SWAT medic for a Sherriff’s office near Tampa Bay. Ratzmann started his firefighting career in Florida. At the time he was working as a corrections officer with plans to eventually transition into police work but after volunteering with a local fire department he found his true calling.
“We went on a call to a grocery store, for a cardiac arrest,” Ratzmann said. “When I got there the guys were working on that person. Watching them on that call, I said I want to do that. That is when I made the decision.”
In 2011 he left his career briefly to enter the lucrative world of private defense contracting, working as combat medic on firebases in Afghanistan, where he regularly experienced attacks from local militants. It was not long however before Ratzmann decided the danger of contracting outweighed its benefits and returned to career as a firefighter.
A little over two years ago Ratzmann and his family made a long distance move from the Orlando area to southwestern Colorado. Ratzmann took a position with the Los Pinos Fire Protection District where he served as deputy chief. Last November the Los Pinos Fire Board fired Ratzmann. His termination came shortly after Ratzmann raised concerns about the behavior of his former chief at Los Pinos.
According to reports from the Durango Herald Ratzmann filed complaints with the fire district in October alleging the chief was misusing district funds, failing to return retirement money and abusing his position for personal gain. Ratzmann’s ouster in November sparked a backlash in the Los Pinos department and caused “nearly the entire crew of the Los Pinos Fire Protection District” to call for the removal of the five-person board of directors via recall election, according to the Herald.
“I wish them the best,” Ratzmann said of his former department. “I don’t have any ill will towards them or the community. The board and I are no longer on the same terms but I am moving onward and upward and doing what is best for my community.”
Ratzmann said he currently has a lawsuit in the works against his former employer for wrongful termination but said he believes the matter will be settled out of court.
“It doesn’t interfere with my position here,” he said. “I don’t plan on going back to testify.”
Ratzmann and his wife Melissa first met on Valentines Day and have been married for 22 years now.
“I told her the first night I met her that I was going to marry her. That’s weird but it worked,” he said with a laugh.
The couple has three children including their oldest boy Shaun, a 20-year old EMT and firefighter who plans to move to the high country to be close to his family. The Ratzmann’s also have two children still in school, their 15-year old daughter Maddie and their 13-year old son Wyatt. Ratzmann said his family is looking forward to spending time in the outdoors including hiking and said he himself is thinking about taking up snowmobiling as a hobby.
Ratzmann praised the department’s current wildland firefighting program as one of its greatest strengths but tempered that with the acknowledgement that many of the department’s fire trucks are aging and nearing time for replacement. He said he hopes to expand the department’s mitigation efforts, including expanded options for chipping.
“I would like to see more mitigation work,” Ratzmann said. “A lot is being done but it could be expanded.”
Ratzmann stressed the importance of strong relationships and cooperative agreements with other regional fire districts. He said he would like to implement a community paramedic program and would like to see his district transition from a being basic life support certified to being advanced life support certified, which would allow the district to provide more advanced medical care on calls it fields.
Ratzmann also cited the district’s firefighter turnover rate, at roughly 30 percent annually, as a significant area of concern for him.
“We as a community need to realize that we need to compensate them better,” he said.
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