There are many words used to describe Dennis Spritzer: Musician. Practical joker. Kind. Hardworking. Ornery. Teacher. Friend.
Spritzer is a familiar name in the Gunnison Valley. The longtime local has roots in both Gunnison and Crested Butte that span more than a century. The son of a seamstress and a banker, Spritzer stuck around, leaving only to serve in the Air Force for four years during Vietnam before coming back home.
He’ll retire from his post as Gunnison’s fire marshal this week. But Spitzer isn’t just a Gunnison fire marshal, but the city’s only to date. He accepted the position on June 22, 1981 after responding to an ad in the Gunnison Country Times. That was after he had graduated from Western State College with a dual degree in business administration and industrial arts.
“I came over here a couple days later, and got hired that same day,” said Spritzer. He’s been at the helm ever since, dedicating his life to service for nearly four decades.
Commitment to education
Spritzer’s first winter on the job was no cake walk — and in the midst of the bitter cold, there were more than 28 chimney fires reported in a single month.
According to Spritzer, wood stoves grew in popularity in the early ’80s, leading to improper installations, clogged chimneys and, of course, fires.
Amid the proliferation of preventable fires, Spritzer was spurred into action, with his initial focus on education of both himself and the community.
Throughout his career, he obtained many fire safety-related certifications, including Fire Fighter I, Fire Fighter II and Fire Officer III, affectionately known as the Old Fogies Certification — bestowed to individuals completing numerous career milestones in education, training and service.
He’s also acquired numerous accolades over the years, including the State of Colorado Fire Service Leadership Award, Robert R. Williams Memorial Firefighter of the Year Award, Leadership in Fire Prevention and Life Safety Award, and District Chiefs Award in 2003 and 2006. He started the Gunnison County Hazardous Materials Response Team and served on the Colorado State Board of Certified Hazardous Materials Inspectors.
But Spritzer’s commitment to education didn't stop with his own. He’s also credited with instigating a fire safety education program, which has included a puppet show for school children and one-on-one “facts of fire” sessions with young people.
Spritzer also made the safety of the schools within the community a top priority. His proudest moments include installing sprinkler systems in every school within the Fire Protection District — from Gunnison Elementary School and Gunnison High School to Western’s campus.
“It took a lot of years to get that done, but now we’re looking good,” said Spritzer. “You never know how many fires you prevent, but you do prevent some.”
Close ties are key
For Spritzer, it’s camaraderie that makes the job special. Whether it’s building new relationships with those in the community or the brotherhood of the fire department, he keeps close ties. Spritzer also has served as Gunnison’s fire chief since 2014 and will continue in that position for the first part of next year.
“I’ve always been amazed with the volunteers here. It takes a lot of their time in the fire service,” he added.
Jo Anne Stone, who served as the Emergency Services coordinator in Gunnison County for 45 years, has known Spritzer since he was a boy, and had the opportunity to work alongside him for many years as well.
“He’s always been like a son to me,” said Stone, who worked with Spritzer on a wide variety of projects, including securing vital fire equipment and working on wildfire plans for nearly 20 subdivisions.
Spritzer also played guitar with Stone’s son in a band called Mid-Life Crisis, which provided entertainment for a slew of city events over the years.
“Dennis’ sister Loretta was the drummer,” Stone laughed.
It doesn't hurt that he loves living in the Gunnison Valley either, where can he fish and hunt as he pleases.
“The outdoor activities, no place can touch it, at least no place I’ve seen,” said Spritzer.
‘It’s been a great career’
As Gunnison’s first official fire marshal, there’s no doubt that Spritzer has left an impression on those in the community.
“He’s one of a kind, and he’s a historic figure,” said Gunnison Mayor Jim Gelwicks.
“Everything he’s done for fire safety in the community is incredible,” added Gunnison Councilor Jim Miles, a former local fire chief himself. “It’s been an honor to serve with him my 35 years.”
For Miles, one of Spritzer’s many legacies will be the programs and outreach he’s implemented over the years.
“We would not be where we are in this department if it wasn't for him,” said Miles.
Colleagues at the city agree.
“His commitment to the education of the youth and the community during fire safety month and throughout the year has been admirable,” said Building Inspector Eric Jansen. “Dennis has been a mentor and a great asset to the development of my knowledge and skills as a building official.”
Yet, always humble, Spritzer is equally as thankful to those around him as they are of him.
“I want to thank the community for letting me have all these years of service,” smiled Spritzer. “It’s been a great career.”
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)