Humboldt volunteers at the ready

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August 18, 2017 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — Minutemen were farmers and merchants and school teachers who answered the Revolution’s call — in a minute’s time — whenever a colonial response to British troops was required.
Humboldt today has its own version, its volunteer firefighters.
They may not respond in a minute’s time, but pretty darn close.
“I’ll hear a truck siren before the (storm) sirens’ three minutes is up,” said City Administrator Cole Herder. “I think there are probably a lot of full-time departments that don’t respond as quickly as our volunteers.”
The firefighters are alerted in two ways, via pocket-size pagers and the constant blast of storm sirens strategically placed about town.
“I don’t know how they do it,” Herder continued. “It amazes me they can drop whatever they’re doing or get out of bed in the middle of the night and be at the fire station as quickly as they do.”
Humboldt volunteers pride themselves on such punctuality, said Sean McReynolds, the town’s dentist and a volunteer since 1991 and the department’s chief since November 2015.
A high point for the local department, in all ways but name a combined rural-city effort, was recent arrival of a brand-spanking new truck for the rural side. Over several years tax levies in Logan and Humboldt townships and Rural District District No. 4 raised enough money to purchase the pumper from the Toyne factory in Breda, Iowa. Cost was $307,000.
Volunteers, 19 strong, gathered Wednesday evening to transfer equipment from a 20-year-old unit to the new one, and, wouldn’t you know it, minutes into the process sirens sounded and a speaker in the fire barn directed rural troops to southeast of town.
Six firemen grabbed coats, helmets and self-contained breathing apparatus and were on their way, with the ambulance stationed in Humboldt at their heels.

HUMBOLDT is authorized to have as many as 22 volunteers, and McReynolds keeps a list of local folks interested in joining the department. “We have lots of family members,  including a set of brothers right now. We’ve had many father-son combinations. We’ve had man father-son combinations.”
Reluctance to push volunteer numbers to 22 comes from McReynolds and other veterans wanting to get new ones up to speed in training and experience. “We have several younger members,” who need time to get a firm grasp on firefighting and its nuances.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of support in the community. Volunteers who work for B&W, Monarch and the city can answer a call when they’re at work,” without questions asked.

MAYNARD Cress, a farmer west of town who, with wife Jeanice seldom misses a community event, has been a Logan Township Fire Board member since 1959. Cress was on hand Wednesday evening, and at the fire barn again Thursday afternoon when firefighters gathered for a portrait with the new truck.
History is among Cress’s avocations and, in his homey and affectionate way, was eager to give an earful about rural fire protection.
From the very start, in 1928, it was a cooperative effort between Humboldt and the then many rural folks, often sequestered on tiny farms of 40, 80 or, if they had a good dose of entrepreneurial sense, 160 acres.
“Humboldt provided the men and a place to keep the truck, a Dodge,” Cress recalled. “The townships split expenses.”
Grass fires often were targets of the rural truck, with firefighters hanging on for dear life as it roared over rock and dirt roads.
Trains chugging along Katy Railroad tracks at the west side of Humboldt and angling off to Piqua often provided opportunities for volunteers to hone their firefighting skills. Sparks generated by steel wheels hitting steel rails oftentimes started grass fires.
Early on structure fires were more frequent than today, sometimes caused by their wood-burning stoves used to heat homes and cook food a catalyst.
Nowadays, grass fires are more often the call that sends the volunteers out of town — limited to the first six arriving at the station. Bylaws impose the limit, but when there’s a fire in town, all who show up are put to work.
For their efforts, volunteers are paid $15 if they’re on duty less than a hour, $25 for more than a hour with no ceiling. They also receive $30 for attending monthly training meetings, led by Daren Peters, who has made it his calling to research and be prepared for all eventualities. It should be noted, McReynolds interjected, “each volunteer puts the $30 training pay in a fund. We give scholarships and buy insurance.”
Revenue to support the department — pay, fuel, occasional equipment purchases — comes from the city, with a touch over $60,000 set aside for this year’s fire fund. “We’re typically under-budget in the fund,” said Herder. “What’s left over each year goes into equipment reserve,” currently sitting at $50,000.
The main city truck, 20 years old, will be replaced soon, with reserves dedicated to the purchase, along with whatever other means council members deem appropriate.
The 20-year threshold led rural board members to purchase the recently arrived engine.
“When trucks get older, they no longer meet standards,” McReynold noted, which can adversely affect residents’ insurance rates.

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