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Schultz grew up alongside Ideal Fire Department

Ryan Schultz, chief of the Ideal Fire Department, was guaranteed to join the department at a young age. Photo by Travis Grimler1 / 2
Ryan Schultz, chief of the Ideal Fire Department, was guaranteed to join the department at a young age. Photo by Travis Grimler2 / 2

Approximately 39 years ago, Ronnie Schultz and other Ideal Township movers and shakers founded a fire department. From an early age, Schultz indoctrinated his son, Ryan.

Ryan is only a little older than the department, meaning he grew up alongside the fire department.

"Looking back, I just hit 20 years last year on the department," he said. "I've been on a long time. I joined when I was 20. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I met a lot of nice people and it's another family."

After all those years, Ronnie is still on the department and son Ryan is chief as of Jan. 1. He has two brothers-in-law who are Ideal firefighters as well.

"Our former chief, Mike Clasen, just stepped down as chief," Ryan said. "He's still in the department, which is nice. He didn't just walk out the door and say, 'Here you go.'"

Of course, Ryan isn't counting the years where he performed firefighter duties without the title.

"When I was a kid, back when you could do things like this, I would go to fires with my dad, ride in the truck on the way to calls, and all of it," Ryan said. "I just became part of it."

Ryan eventually started participating in firefighting by helping to drag hoses on the fire scene, helping to replace air bottles on active firefighters and helping to clean up afterward.

"I was just around," said Ryan, who graduated from Pequot Lakes High School. "I was up here cleaning the hall after a fire and one of the guys said, 'You're always here. Why don't you just join?' The reason I hadn't prior to that was I didn't want to join and go somewhere to college the next year or decide to move."

He joined in November of 1994. Though he doesn't remember his first fire, he does remember one in 1996.

"I will say the first big fire we were at was at Breezy Point," Ryan said. "That was January of 1996. It was intimidating. It's a huge building. There were a lot of departments there. That one will always stick in my head. Plus, it's an icon of the area. It wasn't just a home. Breezy Point (Resort) was on fire, so part of Ideal's job was keeping it from going through the walkway going from the office to the marina. We were right there, and our job was to stop the fire from going through there. That one sticks in our head. It was a big fire. It was a long fire. It was very cold and we were all warming up by the pool in that building."

So many years later, Ryan has more experience, but he said being chief has some strange moments, considering his father and another charter member are still on the fire crew.

"Being that I've been on the department a long time, younger guys always ask questions and look up to me for direction," Ryan said. "Now as chief I have guys that have been on longer than me or as long as me who are older than me and look to me for direction. That seems odd at times."

Ryan said the area has changed over time, with more and bigger cabins going up along the shores of area lakes. The fire department has changed as well. It is now merged with the first response team, and some firefighters share first response duties. During his time as chief, Ryan plans to focus not on changes, but on maintaining a strong department.

"I think my biggest goal is to maintain a strong department," Ryan said. "When I'm done as chief I want the department to have a positive view of the time I was leading the department. I think that's the biggest thing is just to keep people involved, keep the morale high, keep good attitudes and maybe when it's time for me to step down they won't want me to. That would be a great position to be in. Hopefully I can do that."

Ryan especially looks forward to the annual beef feed the department holds the second Wednesday of every August. He said it is an opportunity to work as a team and to mingle with the community that depends on and appreciates them.

Of course, firefighting is not all there is for Ryan. He has a wife, Christine, two sons and a daughter. He also co-owns R&R Schultz Custom Homes with his father. Though firefighting can get in the way of some plans, he said he puts in effort to make sure he and his family get time together for all the great outdoors has to offer them, including snowmobiling, fishing and skiing on water or snow.

"There's always going to be sacrifices," Ryan said. "It's hard to make everything anyway and then if something comes up Wednesday night or a fire call happens, yeah, there's stuff missed. You go on and do the best you can."