Department Legends

Every Fire Department has men who stand out above the crowd. Over the years the Detroit Fire Department has had several men who were outstanding Firefighters. I cannot name them all but I would like to mention a special person who made his mark as a Firefighter, an arson investigator and after retirement a chief of police. His name was Otto Wandrie. Otto died not long ago but his legend still lives today.

Otto was a big man. Paul Bunyon comes to mind when you try to describe how he looked. He smoked Camel cigarettes and drank Jack Daniels whisky. He had a gravely voice and eyes that could either twinkle or glare.  When I came on the job Otto was running at a squad company. He was fearless at fires. He would grab a hose line and plunge into a blazing building like a bull charging a matador. It was the early sixties and we were still using a filter type mask that was not as reliable as the S.C.B.A.s the department now uses. Several times Otto would get in too deep and get overcome by smoke. It was a real job to drag Otto out of a fire. He was tough, reliable, and fun to work with. He instilled confidence in his running mates and his leadership was outstanding. His presence at fires was missed when Otto decided to become an arson investigator. Again he rose to the top in his new job. Otto remained at the Arson Division until he retired.

After he left the department he retired to northern Michigan. He became the Chief of Police on Mackinaw Island. The Island is the site of a fort that overlooks the Straits of Mackinaw. It was a strategic location that controlled trade in the area during colonial times. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the Island except for a police car and emergency vehicles. It is one of the premier tourist attractions in Michigan.

Otto was a good Police Chief. He treated his deputies well and gave them a high degree of leadership. He was protective of them like a mother bear. One day a group of local politicians came to the Island to have a bachelor party for one of their group. In the wee hours of the morning the party got rowdy. Someone at the bar called the police department and one of Otto’s deputies responded to bring order to the situation. That’s when things got out of hand. The men at the bar started to beat the hell out of the deputy. Someone called Otto and he quickly got out of bed put his pistol in his waist band and responded to the scene. When he got there the men were putting the boots to the deputy who was sprawled on the floor. Otto pulled his gun and fired a shot into the ceiling. He shouted that he would kill the next person who laid a hand on the beaten policeman. The party goers made a dash for the door and fled to the dock area. They jumped into a boat and headed for the mainland. Otto called the coast guard and they quickly apprehended the fleeing party goers. Charges were filed and, because the perpetrators were prominent in the area, it was quite a scandal.

A few months later one of the men, involved in the beating of the deputy, returned to the Island with his girlfriend. Here the story gets hazy. It seems someone beat the dog snot out of the guy and no complaints were made. The charges against the original party goers were dropped and Otto resigned as the Chief of Police. Otto moved to Florida and remained there until his passing away not long ago. Otto never talked much about his adventures in life but when anyone mentioned the Mackinaw Island incident he would just give a muted smile and take another sip of his Jack Daniels on the rocks and say, “No comment.”

Otto is missed by all who knew and loved him. He was a legend in the Detroit Fire Department and a legend in life.

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