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John Lamb, Published June 25 2009

The smoke clears: Fargo firefighter Freeman retires after 42 years

As he greeted fellow firefighters, family and friends at the entrance to the downtown Fargo fire station’s dining hall, Dan Freeman smiled when asked how he was doing.

“If I were any better, I’d be twins,” he said with a laugh.

It’s one of Freeman’s signature lines, but one his co-workers will have to get used to not hearing. They celebrated his retirement Wednesday afternoon.

“Forty-two years is long enough,” the 65-year-old gave as a reason for his departure. “This is a young man’s game.”

Freeman said leaving his co-workers behind is the hardest part. Some other things he won’t miss at all.

“I’m not going to miss getting up in the middle of the night when it’s freezing out to fight fires,” he said.

“It will be nice to have him home when things break,” joked his wife, Sherri.

She noted her husband took the job when their son was just a few months old and that the long overnight shifts could be hard on her.

“You never know what they’re going to get into. When he’s on duty, it’s always in the back of my mind,” she said. “I’ll be relieved that he’ll be home safe and sound.”

“She’s retiring from this department, too,” he said.

Still, Freeman will keep busy with a side business investigating fires.

“And I will have projects for him to do,” Sherri said with a laugh.

The Freemans weren’t the only ones making jokes. Past and present co-workers swapped barbs with Freeman, who sat at a table, his helmet sitting in front of him and a framed photo of New York City firemen raising the flag at ground zero behind him.

As the most senior member and given first choice in vacations, Freeman literally wore a target on his back for the event. It was passed off to Fire Marshal Norm Scott, now the most senior firefighter.

Scott was also presented with a walker.

Assistant Chief Larry Schuh, who spent his 35-year career with Freeman, said the firehouse would be quieter without Freeman’s early and noisy mornings. Pretending he found a new alarm clock to take Freeman’s place, he played a tape of pots and pans banging around.

In his brief comments from a podium, Freeman called his time on the job, “the fastest 42 years on the planet,” later referring to it as “a heck of a ride.

He described his co-workers as “a lot of good friends, all brothers forever.”

Clearly moved, Freeman raised his right hand in a fist and, choking up, said, “Thanks a lot.”

And with that, a call came in for a possible river rescue and a handful of uniformed firefighters raced away from the party.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533