St. Louis Park fire chief to retire after decades at fire department

St. Louis Park Fire Chief Luke Stemmer has announced he will retire at the end of May after nearly 37 years with the St. Louis Park Fire Department. (Submitted photo)
St. Louis Park Fire Chief Luke Stemmer has announced he will retire at the end of May after nearly 37 years with the St. Louis Park Fire Department. (Submitted photo)

A State of the City address focused on public safety included an announcement that came as a surprise to many: St. Louis Park Fire Chief Luke Stemmer will leave his post at the end of May.

Stemmer has served with the St. Louis Park Fire Department since 1976, with a total career in fire service dating back more than four decades.

“I have had the rare opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a career firefighter for what I believe is one of the best cities, as a member of a truly great department,” Stemmer said in a city statement. “It’s true when they say, ‘When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.’”

The audience at the State of the City gave Stemmer a standing ovation when they learned of the news, prompting an emotional Stemmer to wipe an eye as firefighters, police, business leaders and others applauded.

City Manager Tom Harmening had previously informed city staff members of Stemmer’s retirement plans in an email.

“I am proud to be able to say that I worked with Luke Stemmer,” Harmening said in the city statement. “He has fostered, cultivated, managed, and led one of the most outstanding Fire Departments in Minnesota. His will be difficult shoes to fill, and I will miss working with him very much.”

Harmening will recommend a process for filling the position to the St. Louis Park Fire Civil Service Commission.

Stemmer began serving as St. Louis Park Fire Chief in 2001. He has also served in leadership positions with the Chief’s Emergency Management Committee, the Statewide Mutual Aid Task Force and the Minnesota State Fire Chief’s Association, which named Stemmer as its fire officer of the year in 2009.

Stemmer declined an interview, but he said in the city statement he believes the St. Louis Park Fire Department has become recognized as a leader in providing a modern fire service.

The chief led a complicated process to replace both St. Louis Park fire stations amid concerns about crumbling fire station floors that engineers determined could potentially give in.

Mayor Jeff Jacobs credited Stemmer for collaborating with firefighters on the design of the fire stations.

“When you’re on the scene, there’s a command-and-control structure. But when it comes to fires stations … he was very much involving all the firefighters being a part of that process, and I really admire that,” Jacobs said.

Fire Chief Magazine awarded gold to St. Louis Park Fire Station No. 1 in the volunteer and combination fire station category.

In a report about the award, Stemmer said, “In a report, Stemmer wrote, “Input from the firefighters, city staff and citizens of St. Louis Park resulted in the design of a state-of-the-art facility that provides for the safety and training of firefighters and will serve the community for decades into the future.”

Jacobs also praised Stemmer as “the kind of firefighter I wanted to be when I was 6 years old.”

The mayor elaborated, “He cares so much about public safety, and he cares so much about the safety of the fire crews to make sure they’re OK.”

Jacobs recalled the emotion Stemmer showed when revealing a memorial at the new Fire Station No. 1 last year for firefighters who died in the line of duty in the 1960s and 1970s.

“He never knew them, neither did I, but he still knows that pain of knowing that could happen at any moment.”

In summing up Stemmer’s character, Jacobs said, “His strength and courage is matched only by the compassion in his heart and the humanity of his soul.”

The city maintains a good relationship with its firefighters largely due to Stemmer’s leadership, Jacobs said. The fire department includes 24 full-time career firefighters and 24 paid-on-call firefighters.

“That starts at the top – that’s Luke’s culture,” Jacobs said of city relations with both groups of firefighters. “He’s one of my favorite people. He’s so good at what he does…. He’s truly one of our heroes in every way.”

Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]