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Longtime firefighter hangs up helmet

Submitted photo

For nearly three decades, David Pralguske has been a staple at the West Fargo Fire Department. He even lived right across from the fire hall for a while.

"We got a lot of calls and things like that," Pralguske said, with a laugh.

But now, after a 28-year stint volunteering with the WFFD, Pralguske is hanging up his helmet for good. It was a nice run, he said, but the time has come.

"One of the greatest things is all the people and friends I've met over the years," Pralguske said. "I'll never forget them."

Pralguske, a Wisconsin native who moved to West Fargo in 1957, began his tenure with the fire department starting at the bottom. He entered as a fire fighter, but eventually advanced to captain and, finally, assistant chief, a title for which he held for 10 years.

After that, Pralguske stepped down from the post, but stayed in the loop with WFFD by joining its board of directors, where he currently sits as the second vice president.

A lifelong Green Bay Packer fan (his wife, Sheryl, is a died-in-the-wool Vikings fan, and the couple has "differences of understanding" when the team's square off), Pralguske said he's witnessed many changes since beginning his stint at West Fargo in 1984. For starters, training to become a firefighter is more advanced than it used to be.

"One of the biggest changes is that the firefighters out here are actually professional firefighters," Pralguske said. "The training is top notch. I don't know how much it's changed, but it has become a lot more intense."

Equipment, specifically as it pertains to technology, has advanced by leaps and bounds. The WFFD recently acquired its first ladder truck, Pralguske said, and electronics such as Global Positioning Systems have helped to keep firefighters safe while they do what they are trained to do.

"Whether anyone admits to it, there's that old adage that people run out of a burning building, and firefighters run in," Pralguske said.

He had many fond memories from his time with the WFFD, but Pralguske also has witnessed heartache. Two of his very good friends died as firefighters; not from fighting fires, but from illness.

Jeff Carriveau and Mike McLeod, a former city auditor, died while Pralguske was with the WFFD. Carriveau succumbed to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, while McLeod was a victim of pancreatic cancer.

Their losses were tough to handle.

"They were good friends of mine, and I'd been to a lot of fires with them," Pralguske said. "That's probably one of the most memorable things; being so close to those guys."

Part of what kept him and others in the WFFD ranks going has been the ongoing support of the community. One of the many fundraisers the fire department puts on is the annual Fireman's Ball, in which firefighters sell tickets to the public. Every year, the response from the public has been outstanding.

"It's really nice to have the support of the public and the businesses around the city," Pralguske said. "It's nice to know you have the support of the community."

Yes, many memories were made with the West Fargo Fire Department, and he had a great time, too, but Pralguske said he's looking forward to a break - eventually. The last thing to do will be retiring in a couple years from his day job as facilities manager at DMI Industries. Pralguske has been with the West Fargo wind tower manufacturer for more than two decades.

"We have some grandchildren, and have been playing around with the idea of retiring here in a few years," Pralguske said. He noted and that he and his wife purchased a home in Arizona last summer.

As for his David's wife, Sheryl has been a steadfast supporter of his work with the fire department since the beginning. His leaving after such a long investment might be tough on her, too.

"I don't know if she is happy about it. She probably didn't like getting up at 2 in the morning when a call came in, but she's been involved with it for 28 years, too," Pralguske said. "I think we're both happy things are starting to calm down for us."

Pralguske laughed as he pondered a thought.

"You don't realize how many times your wife rolls over in the middle of the night to turn on the light for you until she doesn't have to anymore," he said.