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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 27 2014

Longtime Fargo fire marshal calls it quits after nearly 44 years

FARGO – In 1970, one of Norm Scott’s buddies read a want ad in The Forum seeking firefighter candidates.

The buddy then talked Scott into taking the Fargo Fire Department test with him.

Both passed.

Then Scott’s buddy took off for New York.

That left it up to Scott to gear up.

Nearly 44 years later, Scott still wears the uniform with pride, retiring today as the city’s longtime fire marshal and assistant fire chief.

The lean 6-footer looks a decade younger than his 69 years, but says now is the time to go.

“You don’t know how long you’ll be vertical,” he joked Thursday, clearing some paperwork at his desk in the downtown headquarters fire station.

There will be a retirement open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the headquarters station. Then, it’s time for Scott to learn how to relax.

“I may have to wean myself off” listening to the police and fire scanner, he said.

Scott still remembers the thrill and the challenges of being a young man racing down the streets of the city on the back of a fire truck, lights flashing and sirens and horns blaring.

“It was exciting at the time. The bells would go off and you’d jump on the tailboard (of the fire truck) and hold onto the bar,” Scott said Thursday.

But winters replaced the thrill with wind chill.

“In the winter time, when it was cold like this, the wind could cut right through you,” as firefighters held on outside the trucks, Scott said. That meant tucking heads under canvas covers to get to fires still able to function.

He rode the trucks for 12 years. For five more years, he was a fire prevention inspector, doing fire code enforcement and educational programs. In 1987, he was named fire marshal.

“I kind of felt the best way to put fires out was to prevent the fires in the first place,” Scott said. “I want those fire trucks to just sit there and just rust.”

As an inspector, Scott started the “Learn Not to Burn” program for area students, teaching fire safety. More than 91,000 students have been through the program, fire Capt. Ryan Viergutz said.

As fire marshal, Scott oversees three inspectors and helps interpret and enforce fire codes.

The best thing about being fire marshal is helping people stay safe, he said.

“The toughest thing is seeing people’s belongings burn up. But as long as people can get out of their homes, they can rebuild,” he said.

One long-term safety project bore fruit six years ago. That’s when a requirement for sprinkler systems in apartment buildings with three or more units went into effect, Scott said.

He also played a part in getting 16-plex and larger apartment complexes to install fire alarm systems.

Viergutz said Scott is retiring as one of 14 employees in the history of the Fire Department to serve more than 40 years.

Mayor Dennis Walaker is one of the few people in Fargo to have spent as much of his life in public service.

Walaker, who at 2:30 p.m. today will speak at Scott’s open house, said the fire marshal has a calm, low-key manner, but “is a legend” in the department for his work.

Now it’s time for new people and new ideas, Scott said.

His replacement, Ryan Erickson, will be sworn in Monday.

“I’m just going to miss the people the most,” Scott said. “I’m going to miss the camaraderie of the department. It’s like one big family here.”

If you go

What: Retirement open house for Fargo Fire Marshal Norm Scott

When: 2 to 4 p.m. today

Where: Headquarters fire station, 637 NP Ave.

Info: Mayor Dennis Walaker will make a presentation about 2:30 p.m.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583