“A natural leader,” “a tremendous tactician”

Chief “Skip” Dunnell earns the accolades of his men

By Chris Harris

“He always put the fire department first and he always put the protection of the citizens of Northfield real close to his heart,” says Chief Floyd M. (“Skip”) Dunnell, III, about his father, Chief Floyd M. (“Juni”) Dunnell, Jr. “I think that’s the legacy that he had, and it’s the legacy I’ve tried to live up to.” According to his men, it’s a legacy he has surpassed.

“Skip commands the respect of the guys and he’s a tremendous tactician,” says Assistant Fire Chief David Quinn, Jr. Back when they were both toddlers, Skip and Dave used to play with an old “Indian can” mounted on a little red wagon. (An Indian can was a portable water tank with a pump sprayer on it.) “We used to run around pretending things were on fire and pump water on it from that Indian can,” recalls Quinn, Jr., who is himself a second-generation firefighter.

“Skip has an uncanny ability to run a fire scene. It’s very difficult,” Quinn, Jr. explains. “Being a chief requires a lot of things. You have to be a politician, you have to be a numbers cruncher, you have to lead a group of volunteers, which is a job in itself. But the most important skill is on the fire ground, to be able to size up an incident, and decide immediately the course of action that you’re going to take. His mind works very quickly at a fire scene, calculating gallons per minute that you need, water supply, equipment needed at the fire. He just has that ability to do that. His dad was the same way. They can look at a building and say, ‘This is what we’ve got to do,’ and I’m telling you, 99% of the time, they’re right on the money. I don’t know if that can even be taught in the fire academy. That’s just something he’s had the ability to do from the time I’ve known him as chief.”

“Before he was the chief,” recalls life member Walter Anson, “Skip was an excellent firefighter. He wasn’t afraid to get in there and get after things. He never stood back. He always was aggressive himself.”

Skip Dunnell was 22 when he became Chief in 1976. Twenty-eight years later, he is still serving the town of Northfield, putting in an average of 20 hours per week in addition to his regular job as manager of the heating department at Sandri, Inc.

“It’s in my blood,” said Skip recently, “it’s just something I’ve been brought up around. It’s pride in your community. It’s the need to help your neighbors, and that’s probably your greatest reward: in their time of need, you can be there to lend a helping hand and really make a difference. That’s the whole reason for doing what we do.”

“I’m very, very proud of him,” says Skip’s wife, Christine, “because of what he has accomplished throughout his career, and the respect he has from his members and the townspeople. You can see it when people talk to him, just by the look in their eyes and by the way they speak to him. He earns that respect by doing the best he can for the townspeople to give them a safe town to live in.”