116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - For some, becoming a firefighter is a calling, while for others it's an opportunity to help people and make a difference in their community.
But for Cedar Rapids Fire Capt. Lucas Maas, 39, and his younger brother Clinton Maas, 36, - a firefighter in Breckenridge, Colo. - firefighting is a legacy that was passed down from their great grandfather, to their grandfather, and from their father, Don Maas, to them.
'I guess you could say it's the family business,” Lucas Maas said. 'I knew early on that I was going to be a firefighter like my dad and my grandfather. You know, I grew up in firehouses, I grew up around firefighters. So, there was no doubt in my mind that this was what I was going to do.”
A firefighter for nearly 30 years, Don Maas, 63, retired from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department on March 10, leaving his sons to carry on the family's generations-long tradition of running into the fire while others are running out.
A husband and father of three children - his sons and a daughter - Don Maas said he started his career as a firefighter later in life, at the age of 34. Before that, he had a successful career as an auto mechanic, he said. And though he enjoyed working on cars, he said he was looking for a change.
'I had already been a volunteer firefighter for about 15 years - first in Van Horne and later in Blairstown,” Don Maas said. 'So I knew what the job was like.”
In 1990 he joined the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.
At that time, he said the role of firefighters was already starting to shift away from primarily fighting fires and toward more of a public service role.
In the past 30 years, the United States has seen a nearly 50 percent decline in the annual number of fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Changes in construction materials, the use of fire-retardant chemicals in buildings and home decor, and the installation of fire-safety features such as sprinkler systems have not only led to fewer fires but have also contributed to a shift in firefighting.
Today, Don Maas said, medical and miscellaneous calls comprise the bulk of fire department responses.
'These days we get all kinds of calls,” he said. 'A lot of times people call us because they don't know who else to call, and it could be about anything. Most of what we do now are less emergent calls and more public service. And the number of calls we get every year keeps going up.”
And though the nature of firefighters' jobs has changed, Don and Lucas Maas agreed they continue to do important work.
'We get to help people,” Lucas Maas said. 'We're the ones running in when everyone else is running out.”
Lucas Joined the Cedar Rapids Fire Department in 2011 at the age of 31. Today, he's a captain assigned to Station 4 on 42nd Street NE.
'My brother and I both started as volunteer firefighters when we were 18,” he said.
Lucas Maas started volunteering at the Norway Volunteer Fire Department, while Clinton Maas headed to Breckenridge to start his career with the Red, White and Blue Fire District, where he continues to serve.
Lucas Maas later joined the Newton Fire Department where he worked until 2011 when he got his shot to join the Cedar Rapids department.
At the same time, he completed Kirkwood Community College's fire science program and received certifications as an emergency medical technician and paramedic. He then attended Upper Iowa University to complete his four-year degree in public administration.
The ultimate goal, he said, was to join the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.
'I was probably 10 years old when my dad starting working here,” he said. 'I mean, I practically grew up here, and all the firefighters here at that time watched me grow up. I knew when I first started laying the path to becoming a firefighter that I wanted to end up here, too.”
Don and Lucas Maas never worked out of the same station, they said, but occasionally their units would respond to the same calls.
'It's pretty neat,” Lucas Maas said. 'I grew up watching dad work, and here I am doing the same thing.”
Those moments, when the two men got to work together, are times the elder Maas said he'd look back on fondly now that he's retiring.
'We're all a big family,” Don Maas said. 'But in the fire service, it is extra special when you're able to work alongside family members.”
Don and Lucas Maas responded to their last call together March 8. It was a residential fire in the city's northeast quadrant. Two days later, Don Maas' tenure with the fire department came to an end. He retired as the rescue captain on the fire department's special operation team.
'At 63, I'm pretty sure I was the oldest firefighter in the department who was still working on the line,” he said.
Firefighting is physically demanding, he said, adding that as he got older the work started to wear on his body.
'This profession is hard on the body” he said. 'And once you hit 60, you really physically struggle to do the work.”
And though fighting fires may no longer be in his future, Don Maas said he has plenty of things on his plate that will keep him busy. From building a new house in the spring to managing rental properties, 'I'm not going to be just sitting around,” he said. 'I like to keep busy.”
But, he added, 'I'm going to miss the work.”
'There's nothing else like being a firefighter,” he said. 'I'm going to miss coming to work every day, I'm going to miss the job, and I'm going to miss the people.”
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