Wagon Wheels September 10,1987 by Marjorie McGennis
How often do we stop to appreciate the 16 men who are willing to risk danger for us, who put themselves on call 24 hours a day, all because they want to be of help to the Rich Hill community. These are the volunteers of the Rich Hill Fire Department. They are willing to be roused out of bed any lime of night in heat or cold, breathe smoke, risk injury, and try to save lives and property. All this for the sum of aboul $200 per year to compensate them for ruined clothing and other expenses incurred while on duty.
The present Fire Chief is Ron Thompson, who succeeded Corey Gordon when he retired in 1980. Ron had been on the Department since 1972. Bill Bradley, who is Asst. Chief has 13 years of service this year. (Garry Hoover, Captain, has just retired after almost 19 years of service. The oldest member in point of service is Liet. Bill Reed, who has 24 years on the Department. Other members are: Alvin Briscoe and Gordon Turner, with 11 years each; Kenny Heuser, 10 years; Clinton Leer, 8 years; Jerry Williams, 7 years; Charlie Skoff, 6 years; Alfred Stewart and Kevin Peterman, 5 years each; Gary Nichols, 4 years; Elmer Derry and Don Cole, 3 years each, and Teddy Jones, 2 years.
In 1880 when the Department was set up, there were to be 12 members and a chief, but as the years went by, and more people worked out of town, it seemed wise to add a few more members to have sufficient crew available. Now and then people move away or change jobs and have to resign. Dean Cullison, who was Ass't. Chief under Gordon, had 26 years of service when he resigned.
Corey (William Walter) Gordon likes to recall the days when he was Fire Chief. He says he never missed a fire, and part of that time he was also in charge of the city dump as part of his job. For awhile he ran a store just east of the railroad tracks and could lock up and be at the Firehouse in record time. He succeeded John Craig, who had served as both Fire Chief and City Clerk.
Even as a child, Corey went to every fire that he could. He remembers the horses that pulled the Fire Wagon years ago. They were kept at the Fire Station at the north side of the City Hall - just up, childlike, to pet one of those handsome creatures. The horse, annoyed by anyone distracting him from the job, was anxious to begin, reached over and gave Corey a bite that he remembers vividly to this very day.
Finally Corey's dream of being a Fireman came true. He remembers some of the large fires, especially the buildings burning in the block where the Library now stands, as well as the fires at the Picture Show. He always wished for more and better equipment, for there were often breakdowns. He fought through the years to update the capability fo the Department, and is pleased to see some improvements today.
He tells of using some of his choicest cusswords because people would rush to the fire when the whistle blew, blocking the fire truck, running over hoses, and causing time delays. In those days, all people had to do was to call the town operator and ask "Where's the fire?". Roy Bear, as City Marshal, was a big help in keeping people away from the fire area.
In 1982 the Department presented Corey an attractive plaque, with a crest showing a hydrant, nozzles, axes and a ladder. The lettering commended him for his 35 years of service to the Rich Hill Fire Department. He truly loved the job, and although he hated to see property losses, he was always ready, and "couldn't wait for the next fire."
About 1975, Ron Thompson says, the City purchased monitors for the Firemen, and installed an encoder at the Light Plant. Each member carries the monitor on his person at all times and when a Fire call comes to the Plant, they are alerted by a beeping sound. The men contact the plant where the information is given on the problem, the location, etc. Since most fires seem to be at night, the men have their clothes laid out before retiring. When the beeper sounds and they quickly receive needed information, they can be dressed and at the Firehouse within three to four minutes. The truck is pulled out, with two or three on the pumper and those who make it in time to ride in the van can put on their gear on the way to the fire. Everybody is trained to operate the pumper, and whoever gets there first, takes some others and goes ahead. The rest follow as soon as possible. The Chief is supposed to survey the situation and decide where to attack the fire, but the responsibility is transferred on down the line sometimes in the interest of time. Since they are all friends and neighbors who know their jobs and work well together, they go ahead in doing the best job they can. They have to know all the streets in town and where all the hydrants are located.
Each fire is different and some times the ones which appear the simplest at first turn out to be the hardest to control. Some are also dangerous to the firemen, but so far no one has been seriously hurt. When the Marquardt building burned, there was a smoke explosion in the south building, which raised the roof six inches and spit fire and flame through the windows and doors,. Ron thought the building had collapsed and his heart sank, for he knew some of the men were on the roof. He ran to the back where the ladder was and met five fellows looking down the ladder at him. He was never so relieved at any fire -they were safe. As it turned out, the roof did not collapse and the men went back up to continue the fight. At the time of the explosion, Fred Marquardt had slipped and fallen on some ice just in front of the building. As Ronnie reached to help his dad up, they were both blown completely across the street. This was probably one of the worst fires the Department has handled in recent years.
When the crew returns to the Fire Station, they immediately ready the equipment for any further run, checking oil and gas, putting water in the tanks and everything back on the truck and in the van. They discuss the fire and how they handled it; decide whether they could have done it differently, and what they can improve on at a future fire. If mistakes were made, they are used as a training experience, and are not repeated in the future.
The men have been given Arson training, and have an Arson Hotline which they can call any time of day or night. A report must be made on each fire in detail, and monthly the Chief fills out a report for the State Fire Marshal's office on the amount of damage to structures, to automobiles, or other property. A report on any fatalities or criminal damage is also made. Rich Hill has a Class 8 Fire Department; a good rating helps residents on their insurance rates.
The 3-M Company, where Ron Thompson works, has given training to the Rich Hill Firemen. They have also sent Ron, in his capacity for their company, to Texas A.&M. to a Fire training course. It is an intensive training program, with a couple of days of classwork, and then experience in the field with actual fire situations. What he learned in this course, he has passed on to the home fire department here
Recently a new metal building has been erected, joining the old firehouse on the west. The new building is 36 x 48 feet, with a gas overhead heater, and a paved entrance on Walnut Street. This has been a great help in providing space for the Tanker truck, the Jeep with the small water system, and the van which carried the firefighter's equipment. Also in the van are oxygen supplies, backboards, generator, smoke ejector and other needed items.
Since the Fire Department exists from general funding from the City Council, funds are not always available for much needed supplies, or for a new truck, which is badly needed. The Firemen's Wives is an auxiliary organization to the Department and they have raised over $1500 with their Ice Cream Social in the park in August, and bake sales before Easter. This money is applied to such things as new backboards, help on some of the rural fire equipment, oxygen for the tanks, money for First Responder training, and help on completing toilet facilities for the firehouse. They are a great source of encouragement and help to their husbands and to the whole community. Anyone who wishes to be of help to the Department may make donations to the Firemen's Wives and they will see that it is used where it is most needed.
Fighting fires in Rich Hill is only part of the duties accepted by our firemen. For a yearly fee, surrounding farmers may call the Department for help and they have responded to hay and grass fires as well as to farm homes and barns. Their special hose can be used to pump water from ponds, ditches or cisterns, and they carry 1700 gallons with them on their vehicles.
About four years ago the Fire Department began offering a service that has proved to be of much help and comfort to those who make ambulance calls. When the call comes in these men, who are equipped with oxygen, and are able to perform CPR, are a wonderful help to the ambulance drivers as well as the patient and his family before the ambulance arrives. They are called First Responders, and they go to the home at once, guiding the ambulance drivers by radio to the location. Several of the firemen have taken this 5 week course at the Butler Hospital, and also take refresher courses at regular intervals. Jerry Williams, Kenny Heuser, Alfred Stewart, and Don Cole are presently First Responders. Many people thank them sincerely for caring enough to be available with help and encouragement during some desperate times.
About once a year Whiteman Airforce Base gives the Firemen a class on how to respond to an emergency at the Missile bases. The Department is responsible for the area bases, both the one at Happy Hill and one just east of town. They are obliged to respond and do what they have been trained to do.
The Department has responded to a couple of call's to the Peabody Wildlife area, one a drowning, and the other a victim trapped in the water.
The Fire Department responds to gasoline spills and highway wrecks. Half of the Department took training given by Missouri University at Nevada in order to learn how to cut people out of car wrecks. By doing so, they earned $3000 worth of equipment for this purpose and have used it several times.
Alvin Briscoe heads the Civil Defense unit, which has gone out several times to spot tornadoes, using their monitors and radio communication to be in a position to alert the community if necessary.
Of course there are problems that come up. The public is not supposed to enter a block within 500 feet of a fire; the Department would like the courtesy of having people pull off of the street for the fire truck to pass in the interest of saving time. They would ask specatators not to endanger themselves around burning buildings. The weather can cause problems, especially when it is freezing. The cold slows down the firemen, the water in the lines, and makes for a longer response time and is generally very hard for all concerned. Sometimes their outfits are frozen stiff. Corey tells about the men taking off their coats after a fire and standing them up in the corner at Moreland's Restaurant. The new water system recently installed should eliminate many of the water problems in ordinary weather.
A final request from the Rich Hill Fire Department. CALL US FIRST BEFORE TRYING TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT A FIRE!
Time is so important!