At age 54, Mark Sitarz looks too young to retire. But a medical incident earlier this year got him thinking about not only his health, but his life and how he wanted to spend the rest of it. As of Nov. 1, the chief of St. Anthony’s Fire Department retired
after 25 years of service. It was not an easy decision.
“I always wanted to be a firefighter,” the St. Anthony native said. “And my brother always wanted to be a Hollywood stuntman.” Both fulfilled their dreams.
The decision to become a firefighter was cemented in December of 1997, when Sitarz watched Santa Claus roll through his neighborhood on a firetruck. “Those guys were having so much fun!” he recalled. “I wanted to be part of that organization. I went to the station the next day.” Within a year, he had completed training and was working as a paid on-call firefighter in his hometown.
It’s not the adrenaline rush of answering a fire call, but the service part of the job that intrigues him the most. “There’s something about it,” he said. “We are innately wired to help people. You are in this because you want to help others.”
Working in St. Anthony was good, he said. People knew him and trusted him.
After 25 years of answering 2 a.m. fire calls and working through the day afterward, Sitarz knows he’s “not bulletproof. It takes more out of me than it used to. I tend to get into things with both feet.” He added, “You end up living the job. You work in traumatic situations. You want to be victorious because it feels good. Sometimes it can sting.”
He has no immediate plans for his retirement except to unwind and spend more time with his wife, Sarah, a metalsmith and artist who used to have a studio, Quench Jewelry Arts, in the Casket Arts Building. They met, fittingly, when he stopped to help her when her car broke down. “She’s been my support, my rock,” he said. “I’m so thankful for her.”
Sitarz started as a firefighter in 1998. He served as fire chief from 2013 through October 2023.
The new fire chief will be Israel Diaz who has been battalion chief in Roseville. He will take over at the end of November.
Sitarz was named 2023 Fire Officer of the Year by the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association for saving a boy’s life by pulling the child, who has autism, out of a pond this past summer.
“I was driving to work and I saw people running after a child who was headed straight for a pond.” Sitarz didn’t hesitate. He pulled off his boots and most of his clothing and plunged into to the algae-filled water. “I saw his head go down twice.” With the assistance of St. Anthony Police Officer Braden McNair, they pulled the boy out of the water.
“I’ve delivered babies, helped people who were in cardiac arrest, helped rescue people when the 35W Bridge went down. I thought this was a good way to end a