By Brandi Makuski
“When I started here we only had one ambulance,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jodi Baganz, as he settled behind his desk on Feb. 14.
Then, with a smirk, he added, “So yeah, a couple things have changed since then.”
Baganz, 50, was sworn in as the new assistant fire chief on Jan. 3, replacing former Assistant Chief Jeff Davis, who retired after 31 years with the department.
Baganz, too, has a lengthy history with SPFD. He’s been with the department for 20 years, previously working seven years for the Schofield Fire Dept., and as an EMT in the emergency dept. at Ministry St. Michael’s.
But the Stevens Point Fire Dept., he said, is his home.
“I’ve been living with these guys for a third of my life for the last 20-plus years,” he said. “We rely on each other on the scene, we rely on each other in here, we cook together, we work together…those are parts of the job you live for.”
Baganz, who, along with some of his coworkers, holds a spot in the first graduating class of certified Portage Co. paramedics in 1998, noted some of the changes during the course of his career–not the least of which has been a growing ambulance service.
“When we only had one ambulance, it was running everywhere,” he said. “Then we had a second and third ambulance and we cross-staffed individuals. But back then, traffic was different–Highway 54 was a complete danger. Highway 10 and B…we had crashes in Amherst…we’d have a car-versus-train in Junction City, and the interstate [I-39] was, I think, 60-miles-an-hour at that time. I don’t even think it was an interstate back then.”
Throughout the years, Baganz moved up the ranks from firefighter/EMT to MPO/engineer, always in a freshly-pressed uniform shirt “because that’s just the way I was raised,” he said.
When the dept. reorganized in 2010 due to a tightened city budget, he served briefly as interim assistant chief, later being promoted to lieutenant, and finally to his current position.
In that time, he’s also racked up a number of work-related injuries, torn tendons and broken bones.
“People don’t realize, your body takes a toll–it’s a physical job,” Baganz said, adding it doesn’t stop him from playing golf on occasion.
On top of his firefighting resume, Baganz also has a degree in electronic engineering, moonlights on occasion as an architectural and real estate photographer, and recently sold a successful shoe sales website he co-owned because his “heart wasn’t in it”.
Part of Banagz’ new role includes working with the city, building contractors and business owners to ensure life-safety issues and fire truck accesses are dealt with prior to construction or planning of long-term projects.
“I would hope the decisions and discussions we have are smart ones,” he said of the task.
One thing he wasn’t prepared for in his new role: the paperwork.
“I never expected so much paperwork,” he said, shuffling through the pile on his desk. “And the amount of phone calls…it’s not something I ever thought about before.”
But the new role does allow him time to further employ his passion–training other firefighters.
“I love to train; ask any of the guys, if there’s somebody who loves to push them, it’s me,” he said. “This is more of a family than my own family, believe it or not. If somebody tells you differently, they’re lying. That’s why we’re so passionate.”
Baganz lives with his dog, a “killer Chihuahua named Maximus Dogamus” in Stevens Point.