Friends, colleagues recall Fischer

September 12, 2018

STURGIS — Dave Fischer was a loving son, father, husband, and friend with an ever-present smile and kind heart.

“He quietly went about doing good things,” said longtime friend and 4th Circuit Judge Gordon Swanson.

Fischer died in the line of duty Friday during a structure fire at Tilford. The home’s resident, 82-year-old Raymond Bachmeier of Tilford, also died in the blaze.

Swanson, who grew up next door to Fischer and his parents in Sturgis, recounts the story of how Fischer offered money to a veteran about a month ago so the veteran could get a haircut.

“Dave was the kind of guy who put others first all the time. He would put his own well-being second to helping others. He was that way in his firefighting efforts and his personal life,” Swanson said.

Swanson served as a mentor to the 21-year-old Fischer when he first joined the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department.

“I enjoyed the department, especially the community service and the camaraderie of fellow firefighters,” Swanson said.

Fischer said in an interview two years ago that he was a member of the fire department because he liked giving back to his community, protecting others and filling that void in the community.

“Being a firefighter is just something I always wanted to do,” Fischer said at the time.

Tom Trigg was chief of the Sturgis department when Fischer started with the department.

“He was soft spoken, but he was also full of vim, vigor and vitality. He was always ready to do the job,” Trigg said.

Fellow firefighter Kaleb Zook concurred.

“He was quick to teach you what he knew,” Zook said.

Zook called Fischer a good spirit who was fun to be around.

“Sometimes he was serious, but he had a great sense of humor and was a joker. He was always smiling. He loved life,” he said.

The Fischer family recently moved to an acreage in Pleasant Valley which allowed them to have a hobby farm. Zook said Dave and the kids found out there was to be an exotic animal auction in Nebraska. Dave’s wife Shawn insisted Dave take the family mini-van all but assuring that he wouldn’t be able to transport home any large animals.

Zook said Fischer purchased a llama that he was able to transport in the mini-van along with the kids and some foul back to Sturgis.

“He loved to tell that story,” Zook said.

Fischer also loved working the Rally, despite the long hours. He would bring his cornhole game boards to the fire hall for on-call emergency personnel to play when there was down time.

“It will be tough without him during the Rally,” Zook said.

The death has been tough on the department, Trigg said.

“We are a tight-knight bunch of guys, and when something like this happens it is devastating,” he said.

On Monday night there was a critical incident stress debriefing at which firefighters could talk about the incident which led to Fischer’s death and how they are coping.

“This is really tough on the guys, especially the guys who were on the scene,” Trigg said.

Trigg admitted that he often worried about a firefighter death when he served as chief.

“I felt responsible for those guys on scene to make sure everybody goes home,” he said.

Crews were doing everything right that night, it was just an unfortunate accident that killed Fischer, he said.

“We don’t go through something like this often and hopefully never again,” Trigg said. “Dave will be sorely missed, especially his smile and his attitude,” he said.

Trigg couldn’t recall the last time a firefighter on the Sturgis VFD died in the line of duty.

Clint Jolley, longtime Sturgis firefighter and historian, said he recalls that a firefighter died in the county shop fire in the 1940s while “Sinny” Sinclair was chief of the department.

The county shop was then located just off Lazelle Street in Sturgis at that time.

Fischer was a self-proclaimed Army brat who moved to Sturgis in 1985.

He was a member of the South Dakota National Guard CST All Hazards Team from Ellsworth Air Force Base and Iraq war veteran who deployed with the 216th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting Team) in 2004-2005.

“David exemplified what it means to be a soldier, firefighter and first responder – a self-less person willing to put his life in danger to help and defend his community, state and nation,” said Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, adjutant general of the South Dakota National Guard. “He will be deeply missed.”

“Staff Sgt. Fischer was an original member of the 82nd Civil Support Team when it became a full-time unit in 2005 and instrumental in standing up the team,” said Lt. Col. Dale Gadbois, 82nd CST commander. “He was one of the finest soldiers I knew who would help anyone and everyone in times of need. From the beginning, it was obvious he put his service before himself and paid the ultimate price rushing in to help the community in an emergency. It was an honor to have served with him the past 13 years.”

Fischer was named the South Dakota American Legion EMT/Firefighter of the year in 2016. He was nominated by fellow firefighter and veteran Bob Kusser.

Fischer represented Post 33 of Sturgis.

And in true Dave Fischer fashion he dismissed the honor: “I don’t feel like I deserve it any more than any other firefighter on the force,” he said.

Kusser said Fischer is like many who are nominated for veteran awards.

“We’ve got a job to do and we do it. A thank you is good enough for us,” he said at the time.

Swanson, who considered Fischer a very close friend, said he appreciated that when he moved to eastern South Dakota in 2003, Fischer was one of the few people who kept in contact with him.

“That’s the kind of friend he was. It’s very easy to drive through a community where you have friends and not stop, but Dave made the effort to say he was going to be going through and could he stop and visit,” he said.

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