After 42 years of service to the city, Bob Sivak announced his retirement from the Dickinson Fire Department last month. The move closes a large chapter of the tenured public servant’s life and leaves the city searching for a new chief for the first time in 14 years.
In the waning days, Sivak fills his time with administrative duties, but come evenings, still sleeps with the radio on.
“I still hear every call,” he said. “I still get to ride the trucks, I still go on calls. I still take part in training.”
The task of a Fire Chief is one of filling out grant applications, writing presentations, coordinating with other city departments and addressing firehouse concerns.
Speaking with The Press, Sivak said that even after all these years he identifies with the motto emblazoned boldly in the department’s kitchen -- “It’s not something you do, it’s something you are.”
Sivak has been a firefighter since he started as a volunteer in September 1978, when after considering journalism as a career, he had a chance encounter with then Chief Joe Boespflug and was sponsored by a friend, Barry Curn.
“The rewards of what you do in fire service are unlike anything else -- you can positively impact somebody… I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do, but testing always pointed to public service.”
Firefighters, no matter the age or gender, have a common trait, Sivak said.
“It’s volunteer service to others. They want to give something back to the community and to humanity and are not looking for anything in return,” He said. “We promise to take care of our citizens when they are in trouble. They don’t know and they don’t care whether the firefighter is a career firefighter or a volunteer firefighter. They just know and recognize that’s a firefighter, they are here and my day is going to be better.”
Emotions took hold of the Chief as he shared the impact firefighting has on the community, and on himself.
“I think we are unique among first responders, in that people who don’t know us from Adam will gladly hand over their own child and have no fears that the child will be in good hands,” he said.
Sivak shared some of his harrowing experiences, including a horrible backdraft he experienced during a grain elevator fire that could have resulted in serious injuries or death.
“God protects the innocent and fools, the rest of us are on our own,” he joked. “The door had collapsed and I was crawling through the space to get inside when the backblast swept past me and another firefighter. We were lucky that we weren’t killed.”
Sivak said that over the years the mission of the fire department had changed significantly, and that despite the upcoming change of command he is confident that the department and city will be in good hands.
“In 1978 we fought fires. Hazardous materials was a word just being talked about,” he said. “We’re an all-hazard fire response department -- fire suppression, prevention, public education, hazardous materials incident response -- locally and on a regional level. We’re one of eight department tasked with hazardous response in the state of North Dakota.”
Adding to the growing responsibilities of the department, Sivak supervised the added responsibilities of the department becoming an emergency medical response unit.
“Now, we’re doing medical assistance for the Dickinson ambulance -- we finally have the personnel and structure to where we are able to extend our service into the community,” he said.
Sivak said that his retirement comes not as the end of the book, but merely the closing of a chapter.
“I’ve done this for so long, sometimes I wonder how to be anybody else -- but I’m working on that. I like to hunt, and haven't gone fishing in ages -- maybe I’ll try that again. My wife, Pamela and I also like to travel,” he said of plans post retirement. “Sitting here today, I’ve put much time in, even though it doesn't seem like it. Maybe that's part of being in a field that I love, and having a job that I really love doing.”