Hail to the Chief: Moltrup Celebrates 25 Years as Chief

Pursuing his boyhood dream, Don Moltrup has headed the department for 25 years

1996 HVFD Newsletter

Fresh out of high school, Don Moltrup delivered three babies in his first week with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department. His back-of-the-ambulance, seat-of-the-pants obstetrics prompted co-workers to bestow the nickname “Doc” upon the teenager, and it has stuck ever since.

Today, 30 years later, Moltrup is the department’s chief, a position he’s held for the past 25 years. By day he works at Vitro Corp., a Rockville-based defense contractor. In the afternoon, he goes to the firehouse and administers to his tasks as chief until 10 p.m., stopping at home for about an hour to eat dinner.

“The worst thing is probably the amount of time it takes,” he says.

Offering not-so-mute testimony to this statement are three pagers strapped to his waist, ready to call him away at a moment’s notice from whatever he’s doing. In addition, his comfortably appointed home has no less than three scanners – one in the living room, one wired to speakers in the basement and “one in the bedroom that I keep down pretty low,” he says with a little chuckle. He also keeps one at his day job so he already knows what’s going on when he goes to the firehouse.

We have a deep respect for each other,” says Carole Moltrup, the vice treasurer and the chief’s wife. Although they only see each other a few hours each day at the most, Don reserves the weekends for family. Even then he’s sometimes called in and asked to lend a hand. “I guess I have trouble saying no,” he explains.

Despite the time crunch, Moltrup insists the emotional payoff is worth it. “I feel like I’m doing a real service to the community,” he says.

His compensation with the volunteer department is an emotional reward rather than a financial one.

Since he was a young boy, he says, he wanted to be a firefighter. A family friend subscribed to a magazine called Fireman and Moltrup recalls, “I would just pore over them.” His parents, however, made him finish high school before allowing him to join the rescue squad and encouraged him to pursue a technical profession.

While studying electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, Moltrup slept at the firehouse every weekend but didn’t major in fire protection engineering because it was still a fledgling science. He didn’t join a larger, professional department, he says, because “I’d probably be retired by now.” Those departments, he says, offer administrators early, attractive packages for when they decide to hang up their helmets.

And just because he’s the department’s big cheese doesn’t mean he shuffles papers around all night. When a fire breaks out, he’s expected to be on the scene and act as Incident Commander.

That role entails deciding who does what to the fire, deciding if enough resources – including firefighters and equipment – are available, getting more of them, if necessary and coordinating all of it as efficiently as possible.

Although he’s not expected to enter any burning buildings, his car – ared Chevy Caprice complete with siren and light bar – has a breathing tank in the trunk, just in case.

Along with all that responsibility can also come a lot of emotional baggage, considering people’s lives are on the line. Even as a teenager riding in ambulances, he says, “I took it pretty seriously.”

“I saw people die in fires and people die on EMS calls we had made.” He’s quick to add he saw, “people we had saved.”

“It’s always difficult and there’s always a certain amount of emotion, but you have to take the attitude that you’re doing your job … you like to feel like you did everything you could to save them or their home.”

Carole says she never gets too relaxed, given the obvious danger factor. “I worry every time he goes out,” she says. “There are a lot of crazy people out there … sometimes people even shoot at firemen.”

The reward, according to the chief, is getting thanks from members of the community who recognize the volunteers’ personal sacrifices, which often get taken for granted.

One thing Moltrup has noticed in his 30 years with the department is the increase in regulation, a phenomenon which has its good and bad points.

For instance, he says, “The National Fire Protection Association puts out standards, and if you don’t follow those standards, people will sue you.”

On the other hand, he adds, “We actually don’t have as many big fires as we used to because of upgrades to the fire codes.”

The old days of “scoop and swoop” – the term for picking up the injured and whisking them to the hospital for treatment – have given way to an era that puts much less emphasis on the “swoop” aspect, msince now emergency vehicles are equipped to provide on-the-spot emergency care that was unheard of decades ago.

Today’s emergency medical technicians go through 120 hours of training and ambulances have on-board defibrillators – those hand-held pads that act as jumper cables for humans.

Nonetheless, Moltrup tries to keep some ties to the past, dabbling in the restoration of antique fire trucks. Just where does he park a mammoth 1948 Mack in suburban Adelphi? Nowhere, for now. Moltrup says space is one of the biggest reasons he’s not been as active in the hobby as he might like.

One endeavor he doesn’t skimp on is his 7-year-old grandson Patrick, who keeps no less than 16 toy fire trucks parked in his granddaddy’s living room alone.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Moltrup also serves as Volunteer Division Chief, Vice Chairman of the Chief’s Council and the Emergency Trust Fund and is a member of the local Accident Review Board.

Sprawled in his living room with a bottle of Diet Coke and a slice of rich chocolate cake, Moltrup almost looks relaxed. The phone rings, Carole answers it and tells her husband, “It’s Luke, and the ambulance has been in an accident.”
He nonchalantly rises from the couch, muttering, “It’s always something.”