Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Monday, March 14, 2016

Mason City fire chief to retire after 13˝ years at helm
by Molly Montag

MASON CITY — Mason City Fire Chief Bob Platts’ 33-year career in fire service almost didn’t happen.

He could have been a cop.

Platts, a Mason City native, worked a few months as a Manly police officer before deciding he wanted to be part of his hometown police department.

Thinking an EMT class would improve his chances of getting hired as an officer, he signed up for a class at the Mason City Fire Department.

Firefighters urged him to take the Fire Department’s test instead so he could work for them.

Now, after 33 years with the Fire Department, Platts is getting ready to retire at the end of this fiscal year. His last day is June 30.

“I’ll have been chief 13-and-a-half years and it was just a time when new leadership, I think, is good,” he said. “It’s a rapid-changing world that we live in. I think it’s just a good time.”

The department is much different than it was when Platts joined in 1983. Back then they did about 450 calls per year. Now, they go to about 5,700 calls per year — an average of more than 15 calls a day. About 85 percent of today’s volume is medical calls. Platts oversaw the department’s transition to include emergency medical service.

It began EMS service in Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Manly, Kensett, Thornton, Rock Falls and Dougherty in June 2004. It picked up more territory when Snell’s, the area’s main ambulance provider for 56 years, abruptly closed seven months later in January 2005.

Platt's leadership during that time was probably his greatest contribution to the department, said Mason City Administrator Brent Trout.

“That leadership during that time of turmoil during that transition was very important to the community,” he said.

One of Platts’ biggest moments at a fire scene came on May 18, 1997. That’s when the Schoolhouse Apartments, 1510 N. Federal Ave., went up in flames. Flames shot 40-50 feet in the air as the building was destroyed. The apartments were built into what was once McKinley Elementary School, creating what Platts described as “a building within a building.” Several hours passed before firefighters were able to confirm that nobody was hurt. Seventy-two people were homeless.

“For nobody to get injured in that fire was just amazing, because it was rolling,” Platts said.

When he retires, Platts also will remember the fires where people were killed. It’s a helpless feeling, he said.

“Unfortunately, we can’t make everything right and that’s probably the one thing that really gets guys,” Platts said. “You try and try and try, and you still couldn’t change that.”

Platts doesn’t have any concrete plans for retirement. He plans to stay in Mason City.

He will be missed by fellow firefighters, who will remember his generosity and desire to serve others.

“Chief Platts is really a people person. I think he would do anything for anybody at the Mason City Fire Department, “said Mason City Fire Capt. Jared Ogbourne.”You just have to ask him and he would be there to assist you in anything.”

Looking back, Platts is convinced he found the right career.

“Had I taken (the Police Department’s) test and had they offered me a job, I probably would’ve done that,” he said. “But, God was looking over me and said, ‘Hey, you’ll be better here’” at the Fire Department.

The Globe Gazette compiled a gallery of 27 of the worst fires during Chief Platts' 33 years of service to the department.

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  Photographs courtesy of Globe Gazette
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2016



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