New fire chief hired in Wittenberg

Sterk comes into position with 15 years of experience in Wittenberg Fire Department
Luke Reimer

Wittenberg residents and residents of surrounding areas can expect to see a new face heading the Wittenberg Fire Department.

James Sterk, who has been a volunteer firefighter with the department, was named as the new fire chief after a vote from the fire department’s board, as well as the firefighters themselves on Jan. 7. Sterk comes into the position with 15 years of experience with the department. In his time working in the department, Sterk started as a lieutenant, working his way up to captain, then to battalion chief, before becoming the assistant chief.

“I moved here in the late-’90s,” said Sterk. “I am in the trucking industry as a driver trainer for Wausau Chemicals. I have been with our department since 2008. Our chief resigned and then the firefighters took a vote and majority ruled on that one.”

Describing his day-to-day functions as a volunteer fire chief, Sterk said that his day as a fire chief is not too different than his day in other positions within the department.

“There really is not a day-to-day on a volunteer fire department,” said Sterk. “Taking care of the paperwork, call volume, recruiting firefighters and working for fundraisers — things like that are what day-to-day operations looks like.”

Sterk said that throughout his time in both trucking and firefighting, he has learned to be able to adapt to different situations quickly and efficiently — something that he believes should prepare him well for this position.

“Everything changes in the trucking industry every day,” said Sterk. “It is a new adventure every day and you can sort of treat a call that way. Not all calls are the same. One could be just a routine room and contents and the next could be a fully engulfed house — it all depends.”

In terms of why he wanted to become the fire chief in Wittenberg, Sterk said he contemplated for a long time on if he wanted to pursue this position. He said that the relationships that he has made with other firefighters and the support that he has seen from them helped to make this decision.

“A lot of what came into making the decision was the firefighters,” said Sterk. “The supported me very strongly and I am very proud of every one of them.”

Starting in the position in early January, Sterk said that he has not had a call yet where he has to lead a team. While that is normal for this time of the year, Sterk noted that when the weather starts to warm up, wildland fires become a problem.

“Wildland fires are a busy season for us,” said Sterk, noting typical calls for the department. “A lot of our calls (now) are going to be assisting EMS in car accidents and traffic control and things like that.”

In regards of the coverage area that Sterk is overseeing, he said that with the inclusion of Mutual Aid Box Alarm Systems, the Wittenberg Fire Department can be called to assist anywhere across the state. In immediate local areas, Sterk said that the coverage area includes both the village and Town of Wittenberg, Elderon and Franzen.

“Anybody in the state can request us, but we can deny it too,” said Sterk. “If there is a fire all the way in Green Bay, are we going to send an apparatus there? Most likely not.”

In his new role, Sterk indicated that he can’t foresee any major changes to the fire department, saying that everything should stay the same.

“Fundraisers are about the only thing that have been changed in the past five years,” said Sterk. “We are working on a fundraiser right now for a tanker, which should be coming in this year, hopefully.”

Sterk said that the fire department is also hosting an open house, with a pig roast on the first Saturday of October. He added that he employs an open door policy and welcomes communication from the public on any issue. The public can contact Sterk at