Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege is the first to admit it.
“I may be a bit more of a cheese-head than most,” grins Weege, born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “My father spent 40 years working in a cheese factory.”
And were the young Midwesterner’s boyhood daydreams filled with shiny helmets and ladder-trucks and valiant missions of mercy? Not so much.
“I was really into sports,” Weege says. “I’ve always loved the outdoors, and backpacking and camping. I kind of fell into firefighting.”
But not right away. Earning a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin – Stout, in Menomonie, he quickly found work stress-testing electronic circuit boards, most of them prototypes for the cars of tomorrow.
“We were working with vehicles that were still being designed. It was fun to see the technologies that would be coming on the market five years down the road.”
Weege spent many of his off-duty hours indulging his appetite for the great outdoors, which is how he came to appreciate Colorado’s wild attractions. When a position opened up at the industrial equipment firm John Clark, Inc., in Denver, he shuttered his Milwaukee home and lit out for the Rockies.
“It was 1993, and the economy was booming in Colorado,” recalls Weege. “We made underground mining equipment – trucks, front-loaders, that kind of thing. I really enjoyed that job, but mostly I liked being close to the mountains.”
He would soon get a lot closer. After spending six years in mountain-adjacent places like Arvada, Lakewood and Denver’s tidy Highland neighborhood, in 1999 he finally planted his flag west of the Hogback, buying a 70-year-old piece of local history near the shores of Evergreen Lake.
“I decided I wanted to live higher up.”
Weege’s initial foray into Evergreen volunteerism involved puppies, not pumpers, and his efforts on behalf of the Evergreen Animal Protective League shortly yielded personal benefits to match the public ones. It was through EAPL that he met Julie Brox, who would become his wife.
Still, Weege was hungry for a more active role in the community, specifically a physically active one. Ever the sportsman, he’d spent 25 years playing baseball on various city leagues, and another 10 playing intramural rugby. And while he certainly missed all the activity, he missed the camaraderie even more.
“I enjoyed the team atmosphere.” As it happened, there was an organization in town that could provide heaping helpings of both strenuous physical exertion and purposeful cooperation. “I knew that Evergreen was going to be my home, so when I saw the fire department was recruiting I applied.”
Weege attended the fire academy in 2001 and was quickly immersed in all that being an Evergreen Fire Rescue volunteer firefighter entails.
“It’s a huge commitment that tends to consume all of your free time,” he says. “This is a very demanding fire department with a lot of requirements and training certifications. The academy alone is 10 months. But that’s what makes EFR one of the best volunteer fire departments in Colorado.”
And Weege was perfectly content to pull hose and maintain equipment and pitch in wherever two hands were needed.
“I wasn’t striving to become an officer. I was happy within the ranks. But in 2006 I was promoted to lieutenant.”
By pure coincidence, 2006 was also the year he and Julie moved even higher up to Greystone. A couple of years later Weege was bumped higher up to Assistant Chief, in which post he was able to add front office acumen to his front line experience. Perhaps his biggest challenge as EFR’s second-in-command was gearing up for the 2010 Insurance Standards Audit, a mountainous and momentous examination that ultimately found favor with EFR’s state of readiness and resulted in lower insurance rates for district homeowners.
“It took a year and a half to prepare for that, but improving our rating was a really good thing for the community.”
When the department’s only paid firefighting position became available in 2011, Weege’s name naturally came up. He’d been instrumental in bringing several large EFR projects to successful conclusions, making him a logical choice to become the next chief. Following a lengthy nationwide candidate search and an even lengthier review process, the Evergreen Fire Protection District board gave Weege the official nod. It was, like most things in life, a mixed blessing.
“I love this job, but most of what I do is administrative,” he explains. “I miss going out on more calls. But we’ve got a great volunteer corps and a great EMS corps, and they don’t need the chief coming with them on every call. I mostly listen for the bigger ones.”
And there definitely have been some bigger ones, most notably the Bluebell Fire off of Buffalo Park Road in June, 2013.