Later announces retirement after 40+ years on fire

Wednesday, February 27, 2019
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Passing it on to next generation

Fire Marshal Rick Later offers Cadance Smith a tour of the fire hall during a recent Fire Prevention Month.
Gabrielle Tolliver photo

The career of one of Dillon’s longest-serving city officials and public servants comes to a close tomorrow.

Earlier this month, Rick Later—Dillon’s fire marshal and a longtime member of the Dillon Volunteer Fire Department (DVFD)—announced he would be retiring, effective Thursday, Feb. 28.

“It’s been an honor being able to serve the people of Dillon and Beaverhead County as a volunteer firefighter and as fire marshal, trying to help take care of them in the tough times that can come with fires,” said Later, who became fire marshal in 2003 after decades as a volunteer firefighter with DVFD.

With a variety of duties as fire marshal that cover the City of Dillon and the massive Fire District #2 that essentially encompasses all of Beaverhead County, Later has also been one of the widest ranging public officials in the area.

“It’s a huge area,” noted Later of Fire District #2, which stretches from Glen, to the south end of the reservoir, to Horse Prairie to Bannack—or an expanse roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

“It was always fun putting in for grants and listing the fire district’s square miles. They’d call me back and ask, ‘Is this right?’”

As fire marshal, Later has worked out of the fire hall, every day, overseeing equipment maintenance, as well as fire investigations and building inspections, with his duties often taking him into the evening to city council meetings, as well as get-togethers of the Planning Board and Zoning Commission.

“He has done a good job as fire marshal, he really has,” said Mayor Mike Klakken of Later.

“He is really knowledgeable on fires and has helped us a lot on zoning issues, from the fire safety side of things. Rick has a lot of experience and expertise that we are going to miss,” said Klakken.

“Rick later has been there on fires for 40-plus years—that’s a lot of knowledge leaving,” said DVFD Chief Darrin Morast.

“We really appreciate everything he’s done and how much he’s helped the community.”

Later’s experience with fires began in 1974, when he joined DVFD as a volunteer firefighter, a position he continued in for the next 34 years.

“I was on the ambulance service and was with law enforcement, too, at the time, and was always interested in what the fire department was doing. So, I put in an application and joined,” said Later, who still recalls one of the first fire calls he went out on.

“It was the first, or one of the first—a grass fire out on Ten Mile Road out towards Argenta. I remember that well. It started in a creek bottom. It was burning really hot. We had moved upstream and wet everything down as best we could. When the fire came through, it was pretty spooky, but we had done enough in wetting things down to stop it,” remembered Later, who has been called out in the years since to help fight numerous structure fires in the area and wildland fires in places around the county and around the state—from Hamilton, to White Sulphur Springs, to Livingston and many points in between.

“I’ve been around quite a bit,” said Later, who closer to home in Dillon has spent a lot of time investigating fires and inspecting buildings for fire safety and keeping up with all the paperwork for firemen’s insurance and reports.

The job has also entailed a lot of community outreach and education.

“That’s absolutely been a really important part of it,” said Later of the fire education efforts that have taken him into local schools and other institutions and brought local kids to the fire hall to tutor them on how to prevent fires—and how to safely escape one.

“We’re very busy that whole month,” said Later of Fire Prevention Month in October.

“That whole month, we are going to the schools and bringing kids to the fire hall to teach them about fires. “I think that has helped a lot, I really do,” said Later, an advanced EMT who hopes to dedicate more time to the local ambulance service in his “retirement” and maybe play a little golf.

And to keep helping area firefighting efforts, in any way he can.

“I don’t want to stay around forever,” said Later. “But I’ve told them I’ll help out in any way they want, in any way I can. I just want to make sure things get taken care of.”