Popma hands over fire chief’s helmet to Bloemendaal

Mike Bloemendaal has been appointed Pipestone Fire Chief. The transition from Chief Corey Popma to Bloemendaal will officially take place during the fire department’s May 3 meeting. K. Kuphal

Corey Popma has resigned from the position of Pipestone Fire Chief and Mike Bloemendaal has been appointed the new chief. The change will take effect at the fire department’s Tuesday, May 3 meeting.

Popma submitted his resignation to the Pipestone City Council during its April 18 meeting and told council members that it was a very difficult decision to make.

“I’m here tonight humbled, honored, blessed and privileged to be your fire chief for the last 12 years,” Popma said. “I’m so thankful for the memories that I’ve created, thankful for the people I’ve gotten to meet and the people I’ve gotten to work with.”

After submitting his resignation, Popma asked the council to approve Bloemendaal as fire chief.

“We work very well together and I know he’ll do a great job as the new fire chief,” Popma told the council.

Popma said later that the fire department recommends a fire chief and the current chief brings that recommendation to the city council, which considers approval of the recommendation. He said the recommendation is based on experience, training and the individual’s willingness to take the job.

Popma joined the fire department 30 years ago after being persuaded to do so by former chief Marly Taubert.

“When I first joined the fire department, I had no intention or even a thought of being the fire chief,” Popma said. “That was the last thing on my mind that I was going to do that, but as I grew and became more involved with the training and the conferences and stuff, then I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”

He replaced Mark Otter as chief in 2010.

During his 12 years as chief, Popma has made a few changes to the department, including allowing firefighters to “jump trucks” to improve response times. He said four firefighters need to be on a truck before it leaves the garage for a call and the practice had been that all four firefighters on a truck had to be from the same company.

“If there are three in this company and three in this company and three in this company, we got three trucks sitting there waiting to leave, waiting for that fourth guy,” Popma said. “Why not take a guy out of this truck and put him in here and get that truck rolling?”

Other changes Popma brought about as chief include the implementation of standard operating procedures and the purchase of new vehicles including a fire chief’s vehicle, grass rig, livestock rescue trailer, ladder truck, tanker truck and most recently a heavy rescue pumper that is expected to arrive by the end of the year. The heavy rescue pumper will replace the rural pumper and the emergency rescue vehicle.

Popma said he’s seen people at the worst moments in their lives due to car accidents or fires and that even though they might have just lost everything, they are still always grateful to see the firefighters be there in their time of need. One example he shared was a car accident involving a group of kids. He remembers the parents of the kids hugging the firefighters and shaking their hands, thanking them for helping their children.

“I don’t remember a call when we don’t get a thank you,” Popma said. “I’m sure there was a couple of them out there, but the majority of them we’ve gotten a thank you, which really just flabbergasts me because they might have just lost their house.”

Popma said he’ll miss that gratitude, the support of the community and the camaraderie of the fire department when he eventually retires completely from the department. He said he’ll also miss the people he’s come to know at regional and state fire chiefs meetings and conferences and the support he’s received from them. He said he won’t miss the meetings and conferences themselves or the paperwork involved in the job.

Popma said he has a passion for firefighting and that if he didn’t have a thriving business as an electrical contractor, he could see himself being a full-time fire chief. He said his work and his years of service as chief are what led him to resign from the position.

“I just feel it’s time,” he said. “I’ve got so much on my plate.”

Popma said he plans to stay on the department at least until the new truck arrives and possibly for an entire year to help Bloemendaal with the transition. Bloemendaal said he and Popma will swap positions during that time with Popma serving as first assistant fire chief.

Bloemendaal has been on the fire department for just over 20 years and has been first assistant chief for nine years. Bloemendaal, who is the city of Pipestone’s public works director, said he joined the department after he started working for the city. He said three other city workers were on the fire department at the time and talked him into joining. He said he saw it as a way to help the community.

“I enjoy it,” Bloemendaal said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of good guys over the years.”

He said he’s had his sights set on eventually becoming chief and now that the time has come it felt “a little scary” with it being new for him and involving more responsibilities. But he said he’s confidant that it will go well and that the firefighters have been very supportive.

Bloemendaal said he doesn’t have any specific goals as chief at this time. He said there is behind the scenes work that he’ll have to learn at first and the new truck coming in the fall that could affect operations. As the city’s public works director, he brings some understanding of budgeting and running a department, which will be helpful.

As Bloemendaal prepares to take over the chief’s position, Popma offered this advice: “Take it one step at a time and be calm. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” He also recommended attending the chiefs conventions, classes and training opportunities because they provide a great support system.

Bloemendaal expressed his gratitude for everything that Popma has done for the fire department and community. City staff and council members also expressed their gratitude after Popma announced his resignation to the city council.

“I remember when you took over as fire chief and you had some pretty big shoes to fill, but you filled them very well and you’ve done an excellent job,” said Councilor Dan Delaney, who is also the former Pipestone County Sheriff. “I had the privilege of working with you on the front lines there for a few years and have seen how you’ve progressed and provided that service to the citizens of Pipestone in just a very professional and a very good way that I would hope that we would continue. I just want to say thank you very much.”

City Administrator Jeff Jones said Popma has been very dedicated and great to work with.

“Folks don’t realize the amount of time behind the scenes,” Jones said. “He’s in here doing paperwork and making reports and filing reports and there’s just a great deal of work that is unseen besides being on the truck whenever he needs to be there, so I greatly appreciate the time and effort and good service he’s provided to the city.”