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A Great Fire Career – Battalion Chief Mark Baustian

March 1, 2012

I had the pleasure of visiting with Leavenworth Battalion Chief Mark Baustian last week about his career and his upcoming retirement. He shared some stories about memorable fires, his favorite song (Stormy Monday), his favorite movie (Forest Gump), and the story of how he acquired a nickname.

Forest Gump? — Interesting.

Mark told me that on his first day on the fire department he met with Fire Chief Patzwald. The Chief asked Mark, “Boy, what’s your sole purpose in this fire department?”

To which Mark answered – “To do whatever you tell me Chief!”

The Chief barked back at Mark, “Damnit, Baustian! You’re a damn genius! That is the most outstanding answer I have ever heard. You must have an IQ of 160. You are gifted, Baustian.”

For some reason Mark fit in at the FD like one of them round pegs. Mark explained, “It’s not really hard. You just make your bed real neat and remember to stand up straight and always answer every question with “Yes, Sir.”

Then Mark recalled the first meeting with his Captain – Captain Ed Jordan. Captain Jordan checked out his fire gear, including his boots. He stressed to Mark that these were “Magic Boots – and they could take him anywhere.” He also told Mark that, “Fire is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Those words of wisdom no more than left Captain Jordan’s lips then the alarm sounded. It was a working fire on his first day. Mark was riding on the back of the engine, hanging on for dear life with Driver Jim Spencer driving like a Bat out of Hades when they hit the railroad tracks – Mark’s magic boots lifted off the tailboard, tossing him 3 feet high into the air. Good thing those boots were magic!

It was like this throughout Mark’s career. On his first day as a relief driver he “laid out” the engine. It seemed like Mark and Fire went together like peas and carrots.

But, that doesn’t mean Mark didn’t have a few close calls. One close call involved another firefighter – Johnny Johnston JJ. JJ was a senior firefighter with a bit of a hearing problem – especially when he didn’t wear his hearing aids. And that was the case one cold, “Stormy Monday” night.

JJ was inside fighting the structure fire when everyone was told to “Get Out!” Problem is you can’t follow an order that you didn’t hear. Mark had to make entry into the structure to deliver the message. He tapped JJ on his back and gave him the emergency message – “Run JJ Run!”

Moments after they were safely out – the roof dropped like a pancake on the area they had just left.

Mark was always in the limelight. He recalled the time the fire department staged a photo opportunity with the Leavenworth Times. Mark rappelled from the department’s 102’ aerial basket. Before leaving, the reporter asked for the name of the person rappelling. Somehow he misheard the answer to his question and the front page cover story identified the Rappeller as “Mark Mustang.”

Mark’s momma was livid and wanted the newspaper to do a retraction. They wouldn’t. Mark told his momma to let it go, adding, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Mark concluded our conversation by saying, “You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they go, where they’ve been.” He added; “I’ve worn lots of shoes. I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first pair of shoes.”

Asked what he would miss most about the fire department Mark said, “The Guys.” Firefighters don’t get all mushy, but it seemed like Mark was saying, “I just wanted to tell you guys, I Love You.” And, if not for that same firefighter trait, I’m sure they would say right back, “We love you too, Mark.”

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

P.S. On a serious note – I was blessed to have had Mark Baustian serving as a Battalion Chief during my time as Fire Chief for the City of Leavenworth. I know the others who worked with him feel equally blessed. Congratulations on a great career!

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