For Waxahachie Fire Marshal Dennis Crecelius, it is the lives he has impacted that mean the most to him. Crecelius will retire from the department in December after more than 34 years of service to the community.
“When I was in junior high and high school, I always wanted to be a fireman. I think that it was the excitement. I guess the red lights, the sirens and putting out fires is something that a little kid wants to do,” Crecelius said. “When I started we still road on the back of the fire truck. We had two air packs whenever I came to work here, and nobody wore them. That was just the culture.”
Crecelius stated over the year’s technology, innovation, and an increase in training has improved firefighter safety and their ability to respond at an emergency scene.
“When I came to work here, we didn’t have any five-inch hose, and we didn’t have any three-inch hose. Then they got a new fire engine, and it came with a three-inch hose, and we thought that was the best thing ever," Crecelius said. "I think that it is kind of like any other profession or job; it just gets better as the years go by.”
Crecelius stated a feeling that has remained a constant over the years is the desire to help others in their time of need. While a lot of hard moments come to mind, the good moments where lives have been saved vastly outweigh the difficult ones.
“I can remember back years ago when we had that ambulance. We went on a call about 2 o'clock in the morning. A lady was having some pain in her leg and wanted to go to the hospital. So we put her in the back of the ambulance,” Crecelius said. “About that time, someone comes up and starts banging on the back of the door. I opened the door up, and some people are standing there, and they say, ‘hey there is a lady over here, and she is choking, and she can’t breathe.’”
Crecelius stated he told his partner to stay on the ambulance with the patient and he would go assist this person.
“Sure enough there was a lady that was standing in her yard who was actually choking,” Crecelius said. “I got her up and did the Heimlich on her, and she started breathing again.”
Crecelius also recalled a house fire where a young boy was trapped on the second floor of a home. Crecelius was a captain at the time.
“We were probably about two houses away, and you could not see any smoke, and it is about 2 or 3’o clock in the morning. Then they call us on the radio and say there is someone trapped inside,” Crecelius said. “When we pulled up to the house there is a fire going up to the back of the house. I jumped off and said I was going to see if I could find him.”
Crecelius stated he asked people where the child was and they told him upstairs. He entered the structure, but he was unable to find the stairs due to the thick smoke. After backing out, residents pointed to where the staircase was. In his second attempt, the heat and smoke from fire drove him out again.
“When I came back down, Don Alexander was right there. I told Don not to go any further than the staircase and see what you could find,” Crecelius said. “He was able to find the boy and came back down. That was probably one of the best feelings that we got.”
Crecelius transitioned into the fire marshal's office because he needed a change. He first served as a fire inspector then tested for the fire marshal position in 2005 after Larry Bright retired.
“It is definitely a different job. Everyone loves the fireman, but nobody loves the fire marshal. It is just because I am the one that has to make people follow the rules and the fire code,” Crecelius said. “There is a reason for fire codes. It is for public safety, and it is for the fireman’s safety. These guys are going into these buildings to fight the fire, and we want them to have these buildings built to a certain standard.”
Crecelius stated as he has gone about his job he keeps the public and the firefighters at the forefront of his mind.
“I try to make it as safe for the firefighters as I can and the public too. They are the ones that own the business, and as a city, we want to keep them in business,” Crecelius explained. “I have never written anyone a ticket for being out of line with the fire code. I have always worked with them and let them fix the problem. Everyone here in Waxahachie has always taken care of the problem or the issues. So that is kind of the way things have gone.”
Crecelius has no plans to sit on the sidelines but plans to focus his time and attention on his new interest — real estate — after he leaves the department. He added that he will miss the coworkers and the friendship they have shown over the years.