First Responders In The Workplace: How Van Meter Fires Up Employee-Owners To Serve Their Communities

  • October 24, 2023
  • News

On the surface, working in electrical distribution and emergency response might seem like two wildly different jobs. For the most part they are, but did you know several Van Meter employee-owners are able to do both? The two roles even share some similarities that allow them to thrive at each. Here’s why three first responders say working at Van Meter helps them make a bigger impact in their community.


Ryne Emler grew up around the firehouse. His grandpa was an assistant Fire Chief and served for 25 years. His dad, a former assistant Fire Chief, is still active at age 71 with over 38 years of experience. His brother and their uncles have served on the fire department. As he said, “It’s basically a family tradition.”

ryne emler
Emler on a fire call with his white Fire Chief hat.

Now, Emler, branch supervisor in Dubuque, has been Fire Chief of the Potosi, WI, fire department for the last eight years, a department he has served for 20 years. He said his eight years at Van Meter have made him a better Fire Chief because he has learned the importance of effective leadership through establishing a positive culture.

“We have a voice at Van Meter. Just because I wear the white hat as Fire Chief doesn’t mean I make all the decisions,” Emler said. “I rely on my three assistants and the entire department to bring ideas forward and determine what works and what doesn’t.”

When Emler first joined the department, he looked forward to the excitement and adrenaline rush of the calls, but as Fire Chief, he has more responsibility and added stress. How many people will respond? Do they need all the trucks? What are they going to see at the scene? Now, helping to lead his team to success is the most rewarding part for Emler.

“It’s fun to watch a team of volunteers come together and do what we signed up for—helping someone in need.”


Lindsey Sojka, commodities team member in Cedar Rapids, has been a first responder on the Jefferson Monroe Fire Department since 2020. While she joked that her two roles are similar for “pulling heavy stuff around,” she acknowledged the teamwork and support at both workplaces are top notch.

Working in Van Meter’s wire center has showed her the importance of taking care of each other and “not thinking I’m Superwoman.” Whether it’s pulling wire or pulling a fire hose, it’s okay to ask for help, no matter how busy or hectic things get.

lindsey sojka
Sojka is holding a "Pike's Pole" tool that was adopted by Van Meter.

On her first ever fire call, it was raining hard, and she had to drag the hose up a steep hill. She kept sliding down the hill until someone could help her drag it to the top, but once she made it up, she was able to help extinguish the fire. Sometimes it just takes a small assist and a willingness to ask for help to put out fires, and paying that forward is what makes it rewarding for her.

“You could roll up on a scene and it’s someone’s worst day ever, or everyone around you is having a bad day. You have a chance to make what could be a horrible day for them a little better,” said Sojka.

Brandon Zender, inside sales representative in Mankato, also highlighted the camaraderie and teamwork from the fire department. He joined the South Bend, MN, fire department as a senior in high school, and 20 years later, he now serves as Assistant Fire Chief. After working for Van Meter for over seven years, he’s seen how the cultures are similar and why it makes a difference.

brandon zender

“I take pride in helping others in their darkest moments hoping to shed a bit of light on their day.”

– Brandon Zender, Inside Sales Representative, Mankato

The sense of pride is strong at Van Meter and in our fire department,” he said. “I take pride in helping others in their darkest moments hoping to shed a bit of light on their day. It makes people want to be here and contribute at their personal best.”

Like at Van Meter, when people take pride in their work and operate as a team, they’re able to create value for those they serve.


Emergency calls don’t follow a 9-5 schedule, so working a full-time job plus volunteering to go on calls has to be demanding, right? It can be, but Zender said his work-life balance is the best it has been in his career. At previous jobs, he had to make two or three phone calls to see if he could leave for an urgent call. By the time he got approval, it was often too late to help.

brandon zender
Zender (right) has served on the South Bend Fire Department for 20+ years.

Now, Zender’s leader trusts him to know when he has to leave work and when he can’t. “If it’s urgent, I can drop what I’m doing and walk out the door. Everyone understands because we trust in each other,” he said. And after those 3 a.m. calls? “I still manage to drag my butt to work in the morning.”

One of Van Meter’s core values is giving back to the communities where its people work and live. That often involves charitable donations. For instance, Sojka said Van Meter sponsored one of the tools on their new fire truck. Emler said that while those donations are much appreciated, you can’t put a dollar amount on allowing people to respond to calls and help people in need.

“Van Meter deserves a ton of credit for allowing first responders to take off or show up late after an overnight call,” said Emler. “When we say we value the communities where we work and live, they’re actually backing it up. I love working for this company, and the freedom to make a difference makes me want to stay here.”

Emler, Sojka and Zender work on similar sized fire departments with 20-50 members. Calls are unpredictable, but they can receive anywhere from 40 to 80 calls per year in addition to training and monthly meetings. Emler said he hopes people realize how amazing it is that Van Meter allows its people to help because otherwise there could be nobody to take an urgent call.

Thank you to the first responders at Van Meter, and all first responders, who answer the call when we’re in need.