Cottage Grove Fire Chief Bob Byerly retiresHired as the city’s top fire official in 2002, Bob Byerly, 61, said he decided it was time to step away when a degenerative knee injury forced him to consider surgery and the potentially lengthy absence that recovery from an operation could cause.
Bob Byerly, who, for the past decade, has served as Cottage Grove’s fire chief, retired last week after nearly four decades of fighting east metro fires.
Hired as the city’s top fire official in 2002, Byerly, 61, said he decided it was time to step away when a degenerative knee injury forced him to consider surgery and the potentially lengthy absence that recovery from an operation could cause.
“It just seemed appropriate to get going and take care of this now,” he said in an interview last week.
Byerly’s career began with the Mahtomedi Fire Department as a part-time firefighter in the 1970s. There, he stayed until 2002 –— climbing the ladder as a full-timer, enduring through a serious neck injury in 1997 that forced him out of speeding fire engines and burning structures and into an administrative leadership role —when he accepted the Cottage Grove fire chief’s position.
The department Byerly led for 10 years under the umbrella of the city’s Public Safety Department handles around 2,700 calls per year, 500 of those for fires. The retiring chief says one of the things he is most proud of during his tenure is the department’s gleaming safety record, despite an increasingly heavy workload on the mostly volunteer force.
“We’re an aggressive department but we’re very safe,” Byerly said. “Aside from a few pulled muscles we’ve never had a serious firefighter injury in my 10 years. I’m very proud of that.”
Byerly is also pleased with the department’s efforts to share more emergency response services with neighboring Woodbury. The retiring chief said he made spearheading talks before exiting a priority. The two fire departments cover fire and EMS service areas that include more than 100,000 people across the southern half of Washington County, Byerly said, and closer partnership between the two could save both communities taxpayer dollars while improving service to residents.
“I’m very proud of the department and where we are at,” he said.
Public Safety Department officials are beginning the search process for Byerly’s successor.
The desire to take up firefighting, an often dangerous job where full-time positions can be scarce, came from simple desire, Byerly said.
“I enjoy helping people and it is an exciting job,” he said late last week, his office in Cottage Grove’s Fire Station 2 on 80th Street mostly emptied of a decade’s worth of clutter. “We’re there when people need us most. When they’re having a bad day we’re there to help.”
Fighting fires is a passion he has passed along — his son is a part-time firefighter in Mahtomedi and a fire captain at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and two daughters are on fire departments in rural Minnesota cities Aiken and Nevis — and it is one Byerly says will be difficult to leave behind.
“I’m going to really miss this,” he said. “I’m going to miss the people of Cottage Grove.”