Worthington's new fire chief takes the helm

Pat Shorter has been a firefighter with the department for more than 24 years.

Pat Shorter was elected Worthington Fire Chief Aug. 31, and certified by the Worthington City Council in mid-September. He leads a department of 31 firefighters. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — With more than 24 years of experience with the Worthington Fire Department , Pat Shorter became its chief last month following certification by the Worthington City Council .

Shorter, who owns Oxford Automotive Exteriors, an auto body repair shop on Worthington ’s Rowe Avenue, is joined at the helm by Trent DeGroot, first assistant, and Dan Probst, second assistant.

Shorter was the department’s first assistant to the chief since 2018, elected to that position the same year Probst became the department’s second assistant. Probst has been with the WFD for nearly 20 years, and DeGroot, 12 years.

With the change in leadership, Shorter plans to institute an application and interview process for those who would like to take on leadership roles in the future. The merit-based system will consider qualifications and ability. In addition, he wants to develop a succession plan to get younger firefighters involved in leadership sooner.

“We want to get as many people as possible to become engineers and become proficient with our fleet of trucks, trained for extrication and grain bin rescue and other ag rescues,” Shorter said. “We have a pile of training that never ends, according to the standards that exist.”


With a 31-member volunteer fire department, Shorter said he hopes to build collaboration with other entities in the community, particularly with city hall, EMS and law enforcement.

“We need more collaboration to make things run smoothly and serve the people we serve more efficiently and as quickly as possible,” said Shorter, who also assists the ambulance.

Currently five members short on the WFD , the organization will conduct a hiring process in 2022.

“There’s a huge need across the entire nation for people to step up and take the training to be firefighters, EMR (emergency medical responders), paramedics or anything that has to do with the ambulance service,” Shorter said, adding that he’d like to get everyone on the department EMR-certified. The certification requires 48 hours of training, which is offered through a collaboration with Sanford.

Shorter, who never considered becoming a firefighter until he was approached more than a few times, admits the job isn’t for everybody.

“They have to want to do this kind of work, and they have to pass a background check and have the physical ability to do the work,” he said.

A native of Adrian , Shorter moved to Worthington in 1989 to start his auto body repair business and was soon approached by Bill Smith and Judge Jeff Flynn to join the WFD .

Shorter was told that since he was a business owner, he had the flexibility to leave as needed to respond to a call. But it was Flynn’s parting comments one day that changed Shorter’s mind.


“He said, ‘If not you, who? If not now, when?” Shorter recalled. “That’s kind of what rolled me.”

Serving in any emergency response role takes people who can make split-second decisions in high-stress situations. Shorter said it’s the adrenaline rush, and perhaps a bit of insanity, that has kept him active in the department.

“When you get paged to a car wreck or with multiple vehicles, you have no idea what you’re getting into,” Shorter said, noting his experience working with cars has made a huge difference in knowing how to mitigate situations.

Still, it’s a group effort when the WFD is called to a scene. The three officers are the first to arrive, driving directly to the scene to size up the situation and make decisions on where personnel are needed once the trucks reach the scene.

“It’s very much a department effort,” Shorter said.

With the knowledge, experience and ability to do the job as chief, Shorter is also quick to admit it’s a young man’s game because of the physical demands of the job.

In addition to carrying about 70 pounds of equipment when in full gear, Shorter said firefighters learn to breathe through an air pack, and perform physical work such as tearing off sheetrock during a house fire, operating extrication equipment at the scene of a crash, or pull people out of vehicles on backboards.

“It’s a lot of heavy work,” he continued. “It’s hard on your body.”


It’s also hard on families when firefighters get called away, he added.

This week marks Fire Prevention Week across the county, but it’s also Fire Safety Month. The week kicked off with the WFD’s annual pancake breakfast fundraiser last Sunday.

Related Topics: FIRES
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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