Lt. Larry GrabThe Madison Fire Department recently said goodbye to Lieutenant Larry Grab, who retired in September as the longest-serving member of the MFD, capping off a record-setting 42-year career with the department.
Grab joined the MFD on February 4, 1980. His recruit class included Bob Hansbro, who also retired from the department the same week as Grab.

Grab first applied in 1972. “I would have had 50 years on if I’d got on the first time I applied!” Grab remarked.

When he wasn't selected the first time, he doubled down to prepare for the next opportunity. “I was bound and determined to have done everything I could to show that I was interested in doing the job and staying at it.”
That drive and determination carried on through the Recruit Academy, where he finished at the top of his class. But, he said, he didn’t know at the time that the scores had been manipulated to disadvantage some of his classmates, particularly the women and African-American men.
“There were women on the job that were ranked lower than they should have been. There was one woman that should have been right up at the top,” said Grab. "I didn't realize it when we were going through training that we were competing with each other. Not a clue. I immediately saw us as a family, and I did everything I could to help everyone else."
Graduating the academy in the top spot would be the first of many "firsts" during Grab's four-decade career. He was in the first classes of personnel to be Tech Rescue- and HazMat-certified, and he was in the first group of people trained as lake rescue SCUBA divers. And then there's the "first" he always aspired to achieve any time the dispatch tones sounded:
"It's not very often that someone beats me to the rig," he said.
Grab's drive to be fast and first is rooted in a strong desire to provide the best service and achieve the best outcomes for people needing emergency help. With newer buildings burning faster, getting to a scene quickly but safely it critical for saving lives and minimizing property damage.
View of blaze on Apollo Way, 2014
The fire on Apollo Way in August 2014 was one of the largest
structure fires confronted in the department's history.
One of the most memorable calls of Grab's career occurred in 2014, when crews were dispatched to a building under construction on Apollo Way. Grab's crew on Engine 5 was first due. He recalls seeing the large plume as they approached from Cottage Grove Road.
"I called and made this a second alarm," he remembers. "We pulled up on scene and I told my driver, 'We're not gonna win, but we're gonna try.'"
The blaze generated so much heat it damaged several fire rigs and a number of neighboring homes, in addition to destroying the apartment complex that had been under construction. Grab is proud to say no firefighters were injured, and the neighborhood was saved.
Responding to emergency calls has been a passion for Grab from the beginning and remains so at the end of his career. Being able to help people in their time of need is one of the foremost reasons he remained committed to the job for over 42 years.
His career was largely spent on the east side and downtown, starting at Fire Station 8, then to Station 1. After a short stint at Station 2 on the west side, Grab returned to Station 1 until he was promoted to lieutenant in 1999. He wrapped up his career at Fire Station 5, where he spent the last decade serving the east side from Cottage Grove Road.
Grab's commitment to helping others won't end when he leaves the firehouse. Known for helping friends, family, and colleagues off-duty with home projects and more, he says there will be more of that well into retirement.
"I never lacked for things to do," he said. "I kind of have a reputation for helping people..."
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