Rich Grimm

When Rich Grimm reads books that deal with firefighters and firefighting, he detects a certain tone that they have in common.
“A lot of fire department books, they should have the bagpipes play in the background,” Grimm said, referring to the firefighting tradition of having bagpipes at funerals.
Grimm, a 1978 Brookfield High grad, did not want that tone in his book, “The Ghost of Henry Putt and Other Firehouse Tales.”
“It’s a book to make you laugh,” he said.
The 466-page tome, available through Amazon, is autobiographical – although names have been changed or omitted – but is more of a collection of stories than an examination of Grimm’s life. There are stories of growing up on Lincoln Street in Masury, when it was a dirt road; joining the fire department as a 16-year-old high school student; working full time jobs as a firefighter in Sharon and Ontario, Calif.; learning to fly helicopters and base jump; and retiring to a life of professional skydiving, which has included a yearly “boogie” to places such as the Maldives, Palau and Nicaragua.
He’s come a long way from that gravel road in Ohio, to paraphrase a statement he made in the book.
Grimm came to firefighting through his father, Fred, who was a Brookfield volunteer firefighter. Grimm called himself a “fire geek,” who pestered his mother to let him go on his dad’s calls – if only to sit in the car – until she finally agreed.
He entered the service at a time when teenagers could fight fires. Grimm and a few others would get out of school when their pagers went off, run from the old high school across Grove Street to the fire station, and climb on a truck on which they had placed their turnout gear the night before. Sometimes, the only adults who responded to a call were Fire Chief Nick Bartolin – whom Grimm calls “Q Ball” in the book for his bald head – and a driver, as you had to be 18 to drive a fire truck.
“I write about that, how Q Ball had the patience to train a bunch of young kids,” Grimm said. “We were kind of the first line of defense for fires during the day because, basically, all the adults had jobs. They were all at General American or the steel mills or wherever they went, so there weren’t older guys that could go to fires during the day.”
Grimm, also known as “Reaper,” pokes fun at himself, details fire calls that are memorable for their significance – such as the Rembrandt Photography/Columbia Theatre fire in Sharon – or for his or others’ “screwups,” and relates some of the practical jokes that were much a part of his career as a firefighter.
promo“I just tell these stories,” he said. “I write them so they’re not technical. If you’re not a skydiver, you’re gonna love the story. If you’re not a fireman, you’re gonna love the story. It’s just a fun book.”
A book that was years in the making. He said he had kept notes on the stories for some time, and had wanted to write a book since he retired from Ontario 10 years ago. But, things got busy as he and his wife, Kristine, a lawyer, moved to the Central American country of Costa Rica – they live on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean – raised two children, ages 22 and 15, and opened a skydiving business.
“It took a pandemic for me to actually have the time to slow down and actually write the book,” Grimm said.
He tested his stories by posting them on a closed Facebook account made up of firefighting, skydiving and Brookfield-Sharon friends.
“You think you have a good idea for a book: Is it really something people want to read?” Grimm said. “I started putting these stories up. People are like, ‘Oh. My God. These are so freaking hysterical. You have got to write this book.’ They encouraged me.”
Grimm’s cousin, Jeremy Jones, who owns Jones Media Publishing of Scottsdale, Ariz., also encouraged him to write the book, and offered Grimm his professional assistance.
Grimm comes back to Brookfield when he can and hopes to hold a local signing when the COVID-19 pandemic eases and he can travel again.
All proceeds of the book are donated to the Ray Pfeifer Foundation, which benefits first responders who answered the call to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack sites. The foundation helps with medical needs not covered by insurance.