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'You do what you can': After 41 years, Dent Mayor Perry Coleman retires from fire department

The Dent Fire Department recently honored Perry Coleman for over 40 years of service on Tuesday, May 10 following his retirement. For Coleman, his service just felt like the right thing to do.

Perry Coleman recently retired from Dent Fire after 41 years of service.
Perry Coleman recently retired from Dent Fire after 41 years of service.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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DENT, Minn. — Dent mayor Perry Coleman, a man who's worn many different hats, is ready to hang one of those hats up for good.

For the past 41 years, Coleman was ready to change his day's plans at a moment's notice to serve the community as a member of the Dent Fire Department. Recently, he decided it was time to retire.

"I don't know where the time went, but it's been fun," Coleman said. "It just seemed like a good way to help give back to the community by joining. And then once you start doing it, you kind of get the bug."

Coleman moved to Dent in 1980, about 42 years ago, when he got a job at United Community Bank. A couple of months later, someone on the Dent Fire team reached out and asked him to join. Being a volunteer position in a small town, the department is always looking for people to help out, Coleman said, and he was ready to offer that helping hand.

He's seen many changes to the department since he joined in the 1980s, especially in the equipment used. When he started, he would wear a trench coat and rubber-like boots. Now, firefighters get better turnout gear, from pants and jackets to air packs.

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At first, those air pack tanks were made of steel, which meant the firefighters had to carry over 30 pounds on their backs when entering a flaming building. Now, the packs are made of aluminum — they're easier to use and are also more sustainable. They're bigger, hold more air, and allow firefighters to spend more time inside a fire.

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Following his retirement, Perry Coleman was honored by Dent Fire and its chief on Tuesday, May 10.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Though these improvements have made the job a little less difficult, firefighting is still taxing work — especially with the Minnesota weather.

"One fire was one of those days where wind chills were 30 below," Coleman recalled. "And by the time we got back to the fire hall, you couldn't hang your turnout gear up. It was just frozen stiff. And you had to wait for it to thaw out in order to dry out and hang up."

Despite the hard work, however, Coleman always found it very rewarding. That's why he stuck with it — to give back to the people of Dent. While there were rough days on the job, the moments that stand out to him the most now are the ones in which he was able to help minimize damage for people.

Also a member of Dent Rescue, he's responded to people falling through the ice, car accidents, carbon monoxide calls, and more.

"You never know what you're going to run into when the pager goes off," Coleman said. "It makes life interesting because you've got plans to do something, and in a matter of five seconds, your plans change."

He emphasized how lucky he is to have a wife and family who have been understanding about his occasional need to leave at the drop of a hat. A loan officer at Dent's United Community Bank, he also expressed gratitude for his employer's flexibility with his schedule.

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This monument outside of the Dent Fire Department displays, "A Firefighter's Prayer."
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

While the many years on the department have been rewarding, Coleman said he knew it was time to retire.

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"It's kind of a young man's job in the long run," Coleman said. "I just felt it was time."

On Tuesday, May 10, Dent Fire honored Coleman for his years of service. He received a plaque from Fire Chief Curtis Seifert.

Even with this retirement, Coleman still has plenty to keep him busy. He's the mayor of Dent, of course, and is also an EMT on the first response team with Dent Rescue. He plans to retire from those roles, too, within the next four or five years, he said, but as of right now, he feels the community has served him well, and he wants to keep serving it back.

He emphasized that the fire department is always looking for people to join. If interested, stop by the Dent Fire building at 201 First Avenue North or call 218-758-2233.

"You do what you can," Coleman said as he reflected on his service on the department. "I just tried to do my little bit to make somebody's bad day a little bit better."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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