By Jacob Mahaffey
The year was 1984. Songs from Night Ranger, Huey Lewis and the News, and Lionel Ritchie were dominating the radio. In theatres you could see Sixteen Candles, Ghostbusters, or The Karate Kid. If you wanted to buy a new car, the Pontiac Fiero, Toyota 4-Runner, or Chrysler Minivans hit the showroom floor for their inaugural run. Gas would only cost you $1.20 a gallon to fill them up. Also, an 18-year-old Danny Yoder joined the Sugarcreek Fire Department.
Yoder took his fire training during the spring of that year, while he was still in high school. Growing up near the fire station helped fuel his desire to join. “I grew up less than a block from the fire station,” Yoder said. “It was just something I wanted to do.” The eager 18-year-old turned his desire into a 34-year career, that came to an end on September 11 when he announced to his fire family that he was officially retiring.
Yoder has seen a lot of changes over the course of time. “The biggest thing is the upgrade in equipment. The Dodge had a 700 gallon per minute pump,” he said reminiscing about the older trucks on the department. “The tower has a 2,000 gallon per minute pump and 1,750 on 1003.”
While the equipment has changed, so has personnel in terms of names and faces, but all have had the desire to fight fire. “I have worked with a lot of good people,” Yoder shared. “Some of them came and went. A lot of the older guys I worked with retired.”
Yoder has worked with a total of four different fire chiefs, Richard Hostetler, Dave Shutt, Jim Harrison, and current chief Kevin Miller. “For a lot of years, he was my right-hand guy,” former Sugarcreek Fire Chief Jim Harrison shared. “We spent a lot of time together. He was always there. When that pager went off you always knew that if he wasn’t there, he was coming.”
Community has been a huge driver for Yoder over the years. “Being able to serve the people in the community, there’s big satisfaction going out to a wreck with someone trapped in the car,” he explained. “Being able to cut them out and then see them survive because of some of the help you provided.”
There is also a downside to serving the community that you live in. “A lot of times you know the people,” Yoder shared. “Sometimes those calls hit really close to home.”
When his oldest son Michael was young, he was involved in a car wreck. “Jim and I were the first ones on scene with the fire truck,” he remembered. Another call that weighs heavily on him was the afternoon his mom and dad were involved in a car accident. “The hardest call of my life was my mom and dad,” he explained.
Yoder has also lost not just two friends, but two brothers in the fire service, Glen Lorenz and Michael Burgan. “That was hard, it’s hard to lose friends,” he said. “It was a difficult time but you’ve got to go on.”
As a veteran of the department, Yoder has watched several generations join the fire service. Countless young men and women have joined the fire department and looked to him for guidance, including two of his sons, Michael and Mark. “As I was growing up, I wanted to be like my dad,” Mark Yoder shared. “It didn’t matter what time it was, if he was available to go on a call, he did. I looked up to him. I had it in my heart that I wanted to do the same thing he did.”
“I basically grew up down there,” Yoder’s other son, Michael shared. “I was part of the fire family at a very young age. And he’s who inspired me to join the department and try to give back to the community as selflessly as he did.”
Yoder’s leadership and knowledge helped him to climb the ranks. He advanced from Firefighter to Lieutenant, to Captain and finally Assistant Fire Chief.
“Be safe, you’ve got to watch out for each other,” he said to the younger generation of firefighters. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.”
As Yoder retires he takes with him a lot of knowledge and experience. Every member of the department has a memory of the veteran serviceman that they will carry with them as they progress their careers. “Words cannot express the gratitude I have for Danny and his help as Assistant Chief,” Chief Kevin Miller shared. “He has been a great friend and brother in the fire service. Danny has given countless hours of service to his community and we in the Sugarcreek community are forever in his debt.”
Yoder’s devotion to his community hasn’t gone unnoticed. An announcement on the department’s Facebook page at the time of publishing had close to 300 likes and 90 comments all wishing him well, congratulating him, or recounting memories of what he had done for members of the community.
“Danny you had an amazing career in Sugarcreek,” Harrison posted. “It was a pleasure to be your chief for 24 years. Love you brother.”
“You certainly are leaving behind a big set of shoes for someone to fill,” Terry Burkhart commented.
“Thanks for all you have taught and showed me,” Michael Beachy said. “I’m going to miss running with you.”
“Dan Yoder, you’re one of the reasons I joined Sugarcreek Fire Department,” explained Bobby Smith. “Some of my best memories are you, Tom Miller, Glen Lorenz and I hanging out after fires. I was blessed enough to turn it into my career and the job has taken care of my family for 26 years and counting. Thanks for being a mentor and role model.”
“It makes you feel good,” Yoder beamed. “I’m humbled by everyone’s comments. I’m glad I got to take care of my community.”
Yoder has responded to hundreds if not thousands of calls over his 34-year career. Some good, some not so good. But for him, it wasn’t about fame, fortune, or glory. It’s about serving a community that he loves. “It’s been a rollercoaster of good and bad emotions,” he concluded. “But in the long run, it was well worth it.”