Saving Lives Still on the Wayne, Michigan Ex-Chief’s Agenda

Saving lives and helping people has been Robert Dahlman's main objective for as long as he can remember. Even though he's no longer the City of Wayne's fire chief, he's still working on that goal.

Dahlman has taken a new position with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He'll be working in fire prevention from his home as well as doing some traveling. Dahlman retired as fire chief Dec. 31 after 28 years with the Wayne Fire Department.

"I'm too young to sit and do nothing," he said. "I'm only 52. ... It's the same type of career -- helping people."

The Wayne Fire Department, city officials and well-wishers held a retirement party for Dahlman on Jan. 7. The city's new fire chief is Tim Reynolds.

Dahlman has always been determined to serve others. In his early 20s, Dahlman began training to become a police officer. But after encouragement from a Redford Fire Department captain who is now his father-in-law, Dahlman became a firefighter instead.

Dahlman and his wife, Robin Dahlman, have been married almost 28 years.

"I am so proud of him. He has a true passion for serving, and it really comes across," Robin Dahlman said.

"Robin's always been supportive," Robert Dahlman said. "Without her, I don't think the fire career could've happened at all.

"It was my life and it was my family's life," Dahlman said of his career. "I worked seven Christmases out of the first nine. There were shift transfers, overtime and a 24-hour-a-day pager," he said. "I just threw myself into this, and my family became a part of it. When my pager went off in the middle of the night, they understood."

Dahlman has nothing but praise for all three of his families: Robin and the couple's two grown sons, his firefighter peers and the City of Wayne. He makes no apologies regarding the close ties he has with Wayne firefighters.

"People don't understand," Dahlman said. "I actually lived with these guys a third of the year."

Dahlman remembers dozens of experiences he shared with his firefighter family. One especially stands out.

"There was one traffic accident I almost quit over," he said. "A poor child lost his life. He was one week older than one of my own boys." There were good times, too. Weddings, graduations and other family events were celebrated by the firefighters. There was also day-to-day encouragement and support from Fire Department coworkers like Cathy Lutkenhoff, who was Dahlman's secretary.

"My wife calls Cathy my second wife," Dahlman said, laughing. "She knows so much about me -- too much!" he added.

Dahlman also developed close ties with residents of Wayne and the city's leaders.

"Six years ago my wife had breast cancer," Dahlman said. "Her expected six-hour surgery turned into 15 hours. It was a rough time, but the city as a whole came together to support us -- emotionally, and in other ways. It was really commendable."

Dahlman believes his successful climb from the bottom of the firefighter ladder is the result of support, dedication, hard work and extra effort.

"I pulled the wrong fire hose off during my first fire," said Dahlman, who advanced to each position in the department, winding up on top.

"My No. 1 goal was to make sure every firefighter went home the next day," he said.

Although he's retired from the Fire Department, Dahlman finds himself wondering at times whether everything's going well at the station -- such as during the recent snow emergencies. But, "I've got to get that out of my mind," he said. "The city's in good hands, but I miss being there."