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Archive for Wednesday, January 20, 1999

VOLUNTEERS FIGHT FIRES LIKE PROFESSIONALS

January 20, 1999

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A volunteer fire department works to protect the lives and property of Baldwin City.

By Felicia Haynes

Journal- World Writer

Five minutes after their pagers went off, members of the Baldwin City Volunteer Fire Department were at the Baldwin Care Center, checking out a report of the smell of smoke.

The call early Saturday morning was the first of the year. Fire Chief Allen Craig arrived on the scene soon after his pager went off in the department's new Pierce "quint," a large fire truck with a 75-foot aerial ladder. Firefighters from around town drove up in their own cars, grabbed their gear and checked in.

After a quick search, a fan motor was pinpointed as the problem and the building was aired out. Craig maneuvered the ladder truck back out to the care center parking lot.

"These things don't turn on a dime," he said.

The Baldwin City Volunteer Fire Department, a collection of 27 firefighters with hundreds of years of experience between them, isn't a bunch of amateurs. The department got a new fire station and the new truck last year -- they're looking at how best to protect Baldwin City for the next 20 to 30 years.

"When they told us to build a firehouse, they told us to build it for the future," Craig said.

Craig sat at his desk, in the office he shares with Assistant Fire Chief Larry Francq, looking over the department's response times from January 1998 through August 1998. The average call took 5 minutes for the department to respond to.

"That's from the time we're paged until we arrive on the scene," he said. Night calls take a little longer.

"It's as good as a paid department," Francq said. The difference is, he said, professional firefighters dress before leaving for the scene. The volunteers put their gear on when they get there. The volunteers do get some compensation.

"We make $5 a call," Craig said.

The fire department handled 55 calls in 1998.

"We haven't lost a chimney or a basement," Cpt. Leon Rockers joked.

In August, the department dedicated their new fire station and received their new truck. The building, on land donated by volunteer firefighter Bill Hey, sits across the street from the old fire station. It dwarfs the other structure, with a huge garage and two stories.

"We built it for 25, 30 years down the road," Craig said. The station was built for a time when Baldwin City may have at 24-hour fire department. It has showers, a kitchenette, and enough room to add living quarters or offices. The garage isn't filled with the department's two fire engines and the new quint.

"We can get six trucks in it if we need to," he said. Right now, the extra space is taken up by police cars or a city truck.

The new quint takes up a large space. The long, dark red fire truck looks sleek and modern sitting next to the department's 1928 fire engine. The old truck still runs, but hasn't seen a fire in years.

"We drive it in parades," Craig said.

The new quint, which cost $402,000, was delivered last summer. Craig said he went to watch its construction in Appleton, Wis.

"We liked it so much we went up twice," he said. The new quint has a 75-foot ladder the firefighters hope to never use. It also pumps up to 1,250 gallons a minute and carries six people.

"When you need the big one, you need it," Craig said.

Sitting in their office after the call was finished Saturday, Craig and Francq talked about different plans for the department. In the near future, Francq said, they will be going online with their own Web site. The department is standardizing its radio traffic and reports to Douglas County Fire & Medical to make dispatching easier.

Farther down the road, Craig said, the department may add a paid staff member, like a firefighter-inspector.

"I don't look for a full-time, 24-hour department for a while," Craig said.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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