SUSSEX — Deputy Chief Tony Emanuele announced he will retire from the Sussex Fire Department on Tuesday, Sept. 5, after serving the community for 35 years.
Many things have changed during the decades Emanuele has been with the department, but the biggest change he has experienced is what draws people into the profession now.
When Emanuele first joined the department in 1982, he said everyone who served on the department lived in the community. Now, he estimated 20 to 30 percent of the staff live in the area they serve.
“You know, is it money (that motivates people)? It used to be pride for your community, which that stuff is all there," Emanuele said. "The rest still do it for the love of the job and they love the community, but it’s just a different tie that they have. They have the tie with the community when they’re on duty, but then they go away from the community until they’re on call again next, and several of them work in several different departments, so they don’t have love for that one community."
Emanuele first got into fire service because his dad Joe, who joined in 1976, was a paid, on-call firefighter for the Sussex Fire Department.
Emanuele went to Waukesha County Technical College out of high school and became a first responder, and eventually, an emergency medical technician. He was promoted to lieutenant, then captain a year apart in the late 1990s.
Former Fire Chief Colin "Corky" Curtis promoted Emanuele to deputy chief in 2001. When Curtis retired last summer, Emanuele served as interim chief for eight months until Chief David Johnsen was hired.
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'It was time to give my family me back'
Ultimately, Emanuele decided it was time to retire so he could spend more time with his family: wife, Carie, and children, Emily and Joe.
"This is the tough part; this is very bittersweet for me," Emanuele said. "A lot of changes went on, we have a lot of people coming up who I think are going to do a great job. I think it was time for me to step aside and let that happen and give my family me back. It’s a lot of time committed for the people that do this — a tremendous amount of time. The families have to be thanked just as much as anybody else.”
One year after he started with the Sussex Fire Department, he was hired at Rotating Equipment Repair (RER) in Sussex, where he worked as a full-time employee. Emanuele will continue to work there full time after his retirement from the fire department. In fact, he told his boss he could work more hours there.
"I’m grateful to this place (RER)," Emanuele said. "Kurt Weis, the owner, has been just tremendous at allowing me to leave when I needed to leave to go serve the community. He backed me 110 percent.”
In addition to working for RER for "many more years" and spending time with his family, Emanuele will have more time riding his motorcycle and ATV.
Changes to department
The Sussex Fire Commission appointed Johnsen as the new fire chief in January.
The new leadership has brought changes to the department, Emanuele said.
"Chief Johnson obviously runs things differently than Chief Curtis did, and as you would expect, because he’s his own man, so he’s going to operate differently," Emanuele said. "There’s been a lot of good changes. There’s been some change that maybe I’m not ready for and that’s OK. I totally respect that because the person has to run it the way they think it should be run and doing what they think is best for the community.”
The most challenging part of working in the fire department was making sure everyone was up to speed on training and keeping a motivated staff, according to Emanuele.
"Understanding that these people are there as paid, on-call and it’s not a full-time job, so how do you keep their interest there and still run a professional, tight ship? It’s a challenge because if you have 50 people there, you probably have 100 personalities coming out, so it’s dealing with the people that’s the hardest and figuring out what makes your people tick and keep them going," Emanuele said.
Emanuele's message to future leaders is to always play by the book.
"I tend to follow (the policy and guidelines) as closely as I can," Emanuele said. "With that, throughout my 35 years I can say, I've never hurt anybody, so I’m most proud of that. We’ve done some terrific work out there and we’re able to still go home every night. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m proud of, and I want our leaders in the future to do that; don’t cut corners."