Chuck Schaitberger assumed he would work for his dad’s oil business after he graduated from Eden Prairie High School in 1974.
Instead, he would become Eden Prairie’s first fire inspector.
Schaitberger retired from the job on Feb. 26 after serving with the Eden Prairie Fire Department for 42 years, and working as the fire inspector for about 29 of those years. During his time with the fire department, he served under four chiefs and had badge No. 20.
“I love this job and I’m definitely going to miss being there every day. (I’m) kind of looking forward to the next chapter in my life,” he said.
Schaitberger was born and raised in Eden Prairie. He and his wife, Kris moved to Chaska about four years ago. They have two daughters, Caroline and Katherine.
According to the Eden Prairie Fire Department, he joined the department as a paid-on-call firefighter on Nov. 11, 1973. Schaitberger said he was still in high school at the time and remembers getting rides from school to the main fire station to respond to calls. The department had a radio in the secretary’s office and they knew they had a call when the tones went off over the loud speakers.
After high school, he attended Hennepin Technical College to study refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, and took two years of general business classes at Normandale Community College. His father owned Flying Cloud Oil Co. and he figured he would be going into that business.
“I just thought I would stay on the paid-on-call volunteer side,” he said of the Fire Department.
His father sold the company after the oil business “went south” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Schaitberger said.
According to the department, he started working for the city of Eden Prairie full-time in December 1984 while still maintaining his volunteer firefighter position. He was employed as an animal control officer from 1984 to 1985, worked in the public works department from 1986 to 1987 and moved into a full-time fire inspector position with the Fire Department in 1987. He also served as a lieutenant and assistant chief with the fire department during his 32 years as a volunteer firefighter.
“The best thing about that was the camaraderie with the firefighters,” Schaitberger said.
Schaitberger said he had been happy working in the public works department, but when the fire inspector position was created, he decided to apply, believing it would be a good career advancement.
“Eden Prairie was growing and that’s when the housing was taking off,” he recalled.
The biggest challenge of the new position was getting business owners to understand why fire inspections needed to be done. The intent was not to punish them, but to make building safer for them, their occupants and firefighters who responded to scenes. Sometimes firefighters came across hazardous materials or confined spaces the city or occupants didn’t know about, Schaitberger said.
In his fire inspector role, Schaitberger’s duties included educating the public about fire safety; fire investigations and development plan review, the department said. Schaitberger said one of the biggest changes over his career was the type of details he had to remember. He was the only inspector for several years and some of his work was done before computers became common. Today, the city employs four fire inspectors.
“I kind of had to remember a lot of the things and be able to tell the chief on the radio, ‘We’ve got to watch out. There might be an underground space in this one,’” he explained.
The department said in its blog that Schaitberger has working knowledge of nearly every building in the city from his years of doing building plan reviews and fire safety inspections.
“His dedication to customer service and educating business owners and residents about keeping their properties fire safe is the reason that Eden Prairie has a remarkably low fire rate,” the blog said.
Schaitberger was involved with the city’s annual Safety Camp for Eden Prairie third-graders for 26 years. The camp teaches kids about safety topics such as fire safety, personal safety, bullying awareness, 911 and first aid. He also did fire safety and prevention education in Eden Prairie kindergarten classrooms for many years.
“One of the fire inspectors that was hired was one of the kids that went through one of the classes,” Schaitberger noted. “I knew I was getting older.”
Schaitberger said he is going to relax for a short time and figure out what he wants to do next. He plans to be a volunteer at the Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska.
He said he’ll miss the people he worked with the most, because he said they’re like a second family. He said Eden Prairie has “been an awesome city to work for.”