CUBA CITY—Growing up, Steve Fry had three career options in mind: police officer, truck driver and fire fighter. He was able to fulfill all three. Even after retirement, he continues to pursue those passions.
Fry has been a resident of Cuba City since March 1967, when he took over as police chief for Cuba City. He originally grew up in Platteville and graduated from Platteville High School in 1962. During his school years he worked on various farms and then for Ken’s Standard Station, where Walgreens now stands. After high school, he drove milk truck, then, in 1963, he became a dispatcher for the Grant County Sheriff’s Department. Two years later he left to take a position for the Monroe Police Department and was there for two years before taking the Cuba City police chief position from 1967-68.
He then went to work for H&W Motor Express out of Dubuque for just over 33 years, driving semi truck in nine states. It was at that time that Fry also started on the Cuba City Fire Department.
In 2002, H&W closed and Fry filed for retirement. At the same time, the Cuba City Area Rescue Squad asked him to be a driver for them.
“Volunteers have never been more important than they are today,” Tom Gile, Cuba City mayor, said. “With all the government cuts, cities would not be able to survive without volunteer help. Steve’s dedication and time spent with the fire department and rescue squad go above and beyond volunteer status. He cares about Cuba City and we are very lucky to have Steve as a member of our community.”
Fry has served as a truck captain, assistant chief, safety officer and fire chief of the Cuba City Fire Department. He currently is the safety officer, teaching fire safety to the schools. On the rescue squad, he served as vice president for a time and is now the maintenance personnel and driver for that organization.
“Some days it gets to be a full-time job,” Fry said. “Especially on a fire call or any kind of serious call where we use a lot of equipment. There can be a lot of cleanup to do afterward. With me being retired, people can go back to work and I can stay and keep on getting things put back in order.”
Fry’s dedication to the fire department doesn’t end there. He has been a long-time supporter of the Southern Wisconsin Northern Illinois Fire/Rescue Association (SWNIFRA) Death Benefits Program. He joined the program in 1973 and became the president of the group in 1997.
“We have a little over 2,000 members in the program,” Fry said. “It’s a benefit that the firemen when someone dies the family gets a $3,200 benefit. If someone dies in the line of duty, we pay a double indemnity on it. Basically, we pay for any death that occurs, for those who join the benefit.”
He said even firefighters who were a part of it for five years and leave the fire service can maintain the benefit. Cuba City Fire Department currently has approximately 30 members enrolled in that service. Fry spends time going to other fire departments to explain the death benefit program to groups that didn’t know it existed.
Fry said he’d like to see more industry in the city’s industrial park, something that would keep the younger people around the community, giving them the opportunity to volunteer for the fire department and rescue squad.
“Right now we’re so short on help with the fire department and rescue squad that it would be nice if we could have some more people step up and be volunteers,” Fry said. “The amount of training that has to go into this anymore is one of the big things that holds people back.”
Fry said the rescue squad has several people taking the first responder training this spring, which potentially could help the rescue squad’s numbers.
“We’ve had numerous people take the EMT course, and then when it comes to the testing they can’t pass it because it’s really difficult,” Fry said. “Some of this testing, in my opinion, is that they want too much from us. They want to make us a hospital on wheels and they want to make the EMTs doctors, which we are not. We are there to provide basic care and get people transported to the nearest medical facility.”
Fry is proud of his involvement with educating youth about fire prevention. He goes to the schools in Cuba City during Fire Prevention Week, typically around Oct. 8 every year, to teach about staying safe during a fire, having a fire escape plan and not being afraid of firemen in full gear during a fire. He has been in that role since the 1980’s.
“Thinking back of all of the years of seeing how the equipment has changed and the technology, the way that you do things is different than you did 48 years ago,” Fry said. “Another thing that made it all possible for our department to have certain equipment is the grants we were able to get through FEMA, the DNR forestry grants and Dubuque Racing Association. We have gotten a lot of money for equipment that I would never have believed we ever would have had.”
Fry said the community has been very generous over the years, too. Many families have left money to the fire department in their wills and people have been supportive of the fire department’s annual fundraisers, the raffles, breakfasts and dances.
Fry also helps deliver meals to homebound seniors when someone signed up can’t be there. He also helps out with the blood drives at the Fire and Rescue building a couple times a year. For 30 years, Fry remained a special deputy with the Grant County Sheriff’s Department and, at one time, was a part of the Sheriff’s posse during the Vietnam War era when there were demonstrations and events that required more manpower for the sheriff’s department.
In 2004, Fry was pleased to receive the Community Service Award from the Cuba City Lions Club for his “dedication and unselfish service to the city of Cuba City.”
Over the years, his passion has truly been serving the fire department.
“While I was driving truck, or even while on vacations, if there was an open door to a firehouse, I would always be stopping, going in to talk with the guys,” Fry said. “You see different tricks of the trade, learn how people do things a little different. I can get wound up for hours at a time if there’s someone there to visit with or show me their equipment.”
Fry has a son, Mark, and wife, Margie, with three step-children: Rhonda Day in Dubuque, Iowa, Michael Scholbrock in Davenport, Iowa, and Steven Scholbrock in Tennessee. He also has 10 step-grandchildren and one step-great-grandson.
Editor's Note: This column will be a special addition to the Tri-County Press on a monthly basis. Look for each installment near the end of the month. All volunteers are recomended for the article by Mayor Tom Gile. If you have ideas for future volunteers in the community to be recognized, contact Gile at 608-744-3203.