November 28, 2016 - 12:00 AM

The newest tool in the Allen County Rural Fire Department fleet sets up the department to provide reliable service for decades to come.
The department, which serves much of the county north and west of Iola, recently acquired a new 1996 Darley pumper truck on a Spartan chassis, replacing a 40-year old Pierce model that had begun to more than show its age.
“We’re very happy to get it,” said Darrell Baughn, ACRFD fire chief. “From the time I started in 1981, I’d say we’re 100 times better equipped than we had been.”
“This will easily last us 20-plus years,” added Travis Baughn, the fire chief’s son and another long-time member.
The unit is equipped with a 1,000-gallon polyvinyl chloride water tank — twice the capacity as the old pumper truck’s — with foam capability to help extinguish such things as chemical fires.
The truck also has a number of other bells and whistles, such as an extendable light fixture on top of the cab that can turn the darkest environs into simulated daylight.
Even better: The department spent $29,500 for the truck. The newest models, for comparison, cost a cool $200,000 or more.

THE NEW (to them) pumper truck is one of several upgrades over the years for the volunteer fire department, which is stationed at the Storage and RV property on the west edge of Iola.
A 5-ton 1997 AM General tanker truck came a few years ago from the Kansas Forestry Service through its military equipment surplus program.
Travis Baughn and fellow firefighter Dan Rider did much of the work to convert the former personnel  and cargo carrier into a grass and tanker rig by pulling the water tank, pump and other equipment from the old truck onto the newer one.
“It’s put together better than if it was built in a  factory,” the fire chief boasts. “Travis and Dan would get ideas late at night and come out and work on it, then tell me about it later.”
Because it has a water pump on board as well, the General can be used either to shuttle water to rural fire scenes, or pump water directly at the fire.

TWO other vehicles round out the fleet.
A 2006 Chevy flatbed pickup equipped with a 200-gallon tank came from Southern Star Gas Service.
The pickup is unlike most others because it is equipped with a  bale spear.
Why a bale spear?
“If there’s a line of large hay bales on fire, we can pull away the good ones to keep it from spreading,” Baughn explained.
Another pickup, a 1977 Dodge, also is outfitted with a 200-gallon tank.
“We’ve replaced the motor in it twice, and it’s still going,” Baughn said.
As always, the department will keep its eyes on a potential replacement. If nothing is found, they’ll continue to handle the upkeep themselves.

THE ALLEN County Rural Volunteer Fire Department’s origins date back to the 1960s when the late Ray Pershall, a bank officer who later became Iola mayor, and other property owners were eager to provide fire protection for property they owned northwest of Iola.
“Up until then, there was nothing for them,” Baughn explained.
They purchased an old truck, recruited volunteers and soon established a tax base for their own fire district.
While dollars have always been tight — “We just don’t have the tax base to have much of a budget,” Baughn said — persistence and dedication have turned that Spartan group into a fully functional fire department.
For years, the department kept its vehicles parked at the Iola Fire Department, where tanks usually had to be drained when the vehicles weren’t in use during the winter months, lest the water freeze.
That changed in 2003 when the department found a new home at Storage and RV.
A few years later, the parking bay was enclosed, another key upgrade, because cold weather no longer remained a factor.
“Up until then, we’d have to drain all of the tanks until we got a call, then hope like heck we wouldn’t break a valve or two,” Baughn said. “Then when we got back, we’d have to drain and blow out the tanks.”
The department has 10 active members, down from its peak of 15.
“We could always use new guys,” Baughn said.
Applicants must first meet with Baughn, then the other firefighters, who have the final say on who will join.
“They’re the ones whose lives depend on trusting who’s behind them,” Baughn said.
It takes a special breed to sign up for such a department, Baughn continued.
“We get no money for doing this,” he said. “The guys aren’t in it for fame or glory, or just to let people think, ‘Oh, he’s a firefighter.’ You’ve got to have commitment and want to protect people.”
To inquire about joining the department, send an email to [email protected].