He finally decided to hang up his helmet a couple of weeks ago, on December 31.
Around 1995 Pridgeon had moved to Oak Grove in Anoka Co. He saw a sign advertising the need for daytime firefighters and decided to apply. He was hired, and the next day he started Firefighter 1 classes.
“I always wanted to do something for the community,” he said.
Living only a mile from the fire station, he was the first guy to respond to calls for years. Although Oak Grove was more of a rural city, the department still responded to an average of 250 calls a year and mutual aid in multiple other districts.
After 10 years in Oak Grove and once being named ‘Firefighter of the Year,” Pridgeon and his family moved to the Clearwater area in 2005 after his wife Lisa found the house of her dreams.
One of the first things he did after the move was to speak with the Clearwater fire chief. He interviewed, met the officers, and was given his firefighting equipment right away.
“I was a ‘freebie,’” said Pridgeon. “I didn’t have to be trained and I got used equipment.” (Besides equipping a new fire department, training is a fire department’s biggest expense.)
At the time fire departments were paying for their firefighters’ training. Today the state either covers the cost or reimburses the amount spent.
“We take full advantage of all the training available,” said Pridgeon. “It’s been a real boon to the department. When I get training notices I let everyone know about the opportunity. If it’s close by I’ll send up to five firefighters.”
At the time he joined the Clearwater Fire Department, half of the firefighters were new to firefighting, so Pridgeon’s previous experience was a huge asset. At times he and the fire chief were the only experienced firefighters at a scene.
When the department created four new lieutenant positions, Pridgeon interviewed and was chosen to fill one of the spots. Later one of the captains stepped down and he was asked to be an officer.
When the fire chief’s position opened up there was a lot of pressure for Pridgeon to take it. However, at the time he had been a member of the fire department community for 20 years and had already announced that he was going to retire.
“I ended up taking it anyway and said I’d be done in five years,” said Pridgeon, laughing. “This is the sixth year. Nothing went according to plan.”
He accomplished a lot during his time with the department, but he found the best part of it all was being able to make an impact. Among other things, his accomplishments as fire chief included getting the firefighters’ pay increased and getting the department’s ATV and trailer replaced. And probably the biggest – replacing Engine 12, which took two years of research.
“We saw what we liked at a chief’s conference and then worked with a manufacturer to get it specified to what we were looking for,” said Pridgeon. “The manufacturer was just getting started in firefighting so they gave us a deal on the price, which ended up around half the price of what it normally would be.”
For him, one of the hardest things to being fire chief was sending his firefighters into dangerous situations.
“I was responsible for them,” he said.
Like most, he found one of the hardest parts of just being a firefighter was losing time with his family. He’d get called out while at restaurants, during kids’ activities, birthdays, and holidays. He also had a number of close calls, including falling down stairs, through a roof, and through a floor. His lungs were damaged while fighting a wildfire and he broke bones in his hand.
“It’s still the greatest job I ever had,” he said. “I worked with a great group of guys. I’ll be worried about them when I hear sirens.”
Although retiring from the fire department, Pridgeon will still have his day job for a few more years. He’s hoping to get to his cabin more often and to spend more time with his kids and grandkids. His wife is looking forward to uninterrupted dinners and sleeping through the night.
“It’s been a long career, and it’s time for someone else to take over,” he said.