Town of Burlington Fire Chief Craig Ebert is retiring at the end of the year after close to 50 years serving his community. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

Ebert to retire, but his legacy at TOBFD will endure

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

Somewhere around Fire Station No. 3 of the Town of Burlington Fire Department, there is an official printed definition of a firefighter.

Town of Burlington Fire Chief Craig Ebert has his own definition, though.

“It’s a person who likes to do it, who likes helping people. Basically protecting the property and the lives of residents,” he said.

Ebert would know. He has been a firefighter for about 44 years – two stints with the Town of Burlington Fire Department. The break in between was to serve as a police officer with the City of Burlington.

“If not for that, I’d be at 50 years,” Ebert said with a small smile.

Ebert has every right to be proud, even if his era is coming to an end. The chief will retire Dec. 31, and the Town of Burlington Board votes tonight to have Ed Umnus follow him into the position.

The position of firefighter runs in the Ebert family. He grew up two blocks from the Cedar Park firehouse on Browns Lake, and watched his father perform the duties he now does.

It was a volunteer organization, one which Harold Ebert – Craig’s father – had a hand in forming.

“They did it just for this area, trying to save costs,” Ebert explained. “The city was responding out here, but they would charge every time they came out here. It was expensive.

“They formed this group. It was back in the early 50s.”

What started as a small volunteer organization – armed with hand-pump water extinguishers for grass fires – has grown since. Ebert guesses that perhaps 15 volunteers first formed the fire department. Now, the Town of Burlington has three stations and 30 volunteers.

Under Ebert’s direction, the group also has a new fire station at Cedar Park. The new station – at 30130 Meadow Drive – opened in February 2010. A new tanker resides at Fire Station No. 1 at the Town Hall.

The equipment has changed, and so has the training over the years. There is standardized training, which while providing needed education has also cut into the number of volunteers in the department.

And of course, there is the change in technology – like how Ebert finds out his services are needed.

“It’s gone from a siren on the roof to a pager on your belt,” Ebert explained.

But he has also seen the nature of the job change. Ebert used to see a lot of structure fires – not just houses, but barns as well. Because of education and fire prevention training, those numbers have decreased. Building codes have also made residences safer.

Now, it’s fewer structure fires and more assisting the rescue squad on accident calls and responding to alerts from carbon monoxide detectors. There are also more mutual aid calls, as department sizes have shrunk and more people are needed from outlying areas.

“And those departments helping us, too,” Ebert added.

Looking back over those 50 years, he knows it has been, in his words, “a great ride.”

“It’s time to move on,” Ebert said. “It’s time to let the younger folks take over.”

He has no doubt the tradition will carry on.

“I wish them all the successes I’ve had,” the chief said. “They’re all qualified. I know they’re going to do a great job for the community.”

And at the end of the day on Dec. 31, Ebert will return home – a home for the first time in a long time without a firefighter who responds to the needs of many.

“My wife’s not going to know what to do with me around the house,” Ebert said with a laugh.