Before Golder Ranch Fire Chief Randy Karrer entered the lifesaving business, it was his life being saved.
Shortly after graduating from Canyon Del Oro High School, Karrer, then 18, was riding in a friend’s car on Speedway Boulevard when another vehicle unexpectedly turned in front of them.
The 1957 Chevy that Karrer was riding in was not equipped with seatbelts.
The collision sent Karrer through the windshield and into the hood, which had crumbled upward from the impact. The force with which his head hit the hood was enough to send him back inside the vehicle.
It was an accident that should have killed him. Instead, it transformed him.
“The Tucson Fire Department saved my life,” said Karrer. “After my recovery, that’s when I learned I wanted to be in the fire service. That’s what spurred it for me.”
Karrer, whose father was also a firefighter, began working part time for Rural/Metro in 1981 – just one year after the accident, and was eventually assigned a full time position with Northwest Fire District, where he would spend the majority of his career.
In 2010, Karrer was appointed chief of the Golder Ranch Fire District, where he continues to work today.
It’s a career that has come with endless reward, unparalleled bonds, and incredible risks.
It’s a career Karrer nearly gave his life for.
In 2004, while traveling on Interstate 10 en route to help out at the Goodyear Fire Department, Karrer spotted several bodies sprawled in the road.
“At first I thought a vehicle had flipped, and that’s where the bodies had come from,” said Karrer.
Instead, the scene was the result of a gunfight between coyotes (illegal immigrant smugglers) battling for control of immigrants.
Karrer stopped to render aid to the injured when his vehicle was hit from behind by a flatbed truck.
He sustained extensive injuries, and was hospitalized for nearly four months.
During that time, his fellow firefighters looked after his family.
“It’s a bond you can’t describe,” said Karrer. “Firefighters took care of my family, they pulled the weeds in my yard, they picked up my kids from school. They filled that role of being a father to my children.”
In a line of work so exposed to tragedy, it’s important to find a way to remain optimistic, says Karrer.
“You’re dealing with things on a regular basis that are most people’s worst nightmares,” said Karrer. “I really subscribe to the theory that attitude is everything. I try to be very positive and look for opportunities to be as progressive as possible and to be an example that can be followed. I’ve really taken on the quest to be the best I can be. It’s an attitude that was instilled in me by my father and mentors in the fire service.”
Others have taken notice of Karrer’s approach. In July, Karrer was recognized as Fire Chief of the Year by the Arizona Fire Chief’s Association (AFCA). He was presented the award by Chief Gary Hatch, President of the AFCA, during the opening ceremony of the AFCA’s annual conference in Glendale.
“It’s a huge deal to me,” said Karrer. “It’s humbling to be selected by my peers, the fire chiefs throughout the state of Arizona. It means a lot, and it’s something I cherish. I was taken aback they selected me, because there are five to 10 other people who I can think of that deserve it.”
Others are less modest in speaking of Karrer’s deservingness of the award.
“I have the honor and privilege to work with Chief Randy Karrer and the Golder Ranch Fire Department on a daily basis,” said Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp. “It’s obvious from this recognition that Chief Karrer’s peers see what I witness regularly. Chief Karrer is a consummate professional and I value his leadership in providing public safety to our community. I congratulate Chief Karrer on this well-deserved award.”
The most rewarding thing for Karrer, though, is not an award, but the opportunity to help those most in need – be it the families recently affected by the Yarnell Hill fire, or the general public.
“Seeing that gratitude people have for you – that’s why I do this,” said Karrer. “I think when you see people at their worst, being able to make it a little better gives a great sense of pride. It goes back to being a good community member. I think good things happen to good people. It’s about paying it forward. Our goal is to make a person’s day a little bit better, and relieve some of the chaos they are dealing with. That’s what makes us firefighters.”
A few years from retiring, Karrer, a husband and father of two boys, says he will stay the course that has worked so well for him during his long career in public service.
“I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing, and try to leave a legacy behind when I go,” he said. “I want to make sure people remember and say, ‘He was good here. He was good. He left a legacy.’”