Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette
TRIBUTE TO VOLUNTEERS
By Forest J. McComb
Volunteer fire departments are exactly what they say they are, volunteer. All labor to operate and maintain a department is donated time, and that’s a noble and generous thing to see in this fast and furious world of today.
There’s no overtime, double-time, or even single-time to be earned, and it’s no easy task to answer a call when busy on one’s own work, or leave a bed in the wee hours of the night because someone has had an accident or a house or barn is on fire!
The Huntertown Fire Department is organized about the same as other volunteer departments, except Huntertown maintains ambulance service along with fire and some don’t. The service is free and unlimited. Besides local service, if folks from Maine, Texas, California, or Timbuctoo are unfortunate enough to have an accident in the Huntertown area and need an ambulance, the run will be made and the hurt and maimed taken to a hospital.
Saturday night a public dance opened the general canvass to fund the department’s new ambulance with an updated range of services. The Huntertown Fire Depart-ment was started in 1917, for people saw the need of it and equipment was purchased by popular subscription of two chemical carts that used soda, acid, and water to extinguish fires. The small start must have proved its worth, for it was the foundation of the present department.
The Organization was Kept Simple
There was no formal organization except for one officer, WILLIAM SNYDER, formerly of McCOMB and SNYDER general store, was chief. The balance was just a group of men and boys willing to offer their services. Snyder was later succeeded by GEORGE HARDING as chief.
They kept the two carts in a small building back of the general store and when needed they were towed behind a buggy, light wagon, or automobile – any way to get them to the fire.
In 1922 a used Model T. truck was purchased, again by popular subscription, and a painter’s ladder, lanterns, axes and other small tools acquired as gifts were carried on the truck. It also sported a four-inch alarm bell mounted on the front with a piece of spring steel. In answering a call, the bell jingling over the rough roads heralded the fact that the fire department was making a run and should be given the right-of-way!
One day, PAUL PARKER was at the general store in downtown Huntertown. ROBERT HILLEGAS ran an egg and creamery business across the street, and his son, WARD, came in the store and announced they had a fire among the egg crates in a back room. Paul quickly took charge, got the fire truck across the street and doused the fire except for one stubborn spot that wouldn’t give in.
It was difficult to see through the smoke and steam but the stubborn fire proved to be the electric light bulb on the egg-tester!
GEORGE FREEMAN, a fire department member, worked one winter in a logging camp in Colorado. When George told fellow workers he was from Huntertown, Ind., they “put him on” by saying, “There can’t be any such town, George, you’re just trying to hide your identity!”
One Cold Night A Spark Persisted
That winter, on a cold night at Huntertown, a kerosene heater left burning set fire to the building and the entire fire department was lost – truck, pump, tools, and all! When the burning of the fire department made the newspapers, George in Colorado, happily proved to “buddies” that there really was a Huntertown! The only thing salvaged from the fire was the damaged alarm bell which COONEY TUCKER still has.
The township went without fire protection until 1928 when the Township Trustee, GEORGE (CAL) GUMP purchased a Model A. Ford truck. The truck boasted both a chemical tank and another for water, being one of the first volunteer departments having both.
SAM SURFUS built a building on school land to house the new outfit, and insulated the building to keep the pump from freezing. It did freeze, however, making a foot long crack in the jacket. The pump was kept in use and strangely welded itself, probably from chemicals in the water.
In 1930, the department was officially organized. ARTHUR McCOMB was elected president and served until 1951. SYLVESTER WARNER was the secretary and served until his death in 1961. CLAUDE GRIM was named chief and was succeeded later by GEORGE FREEMAN.
Presidents to succeed ARTHUR McCOMB were JAY FOULK, MERLE BRYIE, DONALD CROOKS, LAWRENCE SIGLER, ROSS HAMM, GENE MILLS and KIRK ETHERIDGE is serving this year.
Secretaries succeeding SYLVESTER WARNER, were GEORGE YOUNG, CHARLES TRUMBLE, CARL BAILEY, AND JACK FREELAND is the present secretary.
Up to this time the department had succeeded in saving considerable property, but wasn’t always efficient. Once in the struggling years, a call came from the eastern side of the township, where a barn had caught fire. The men coming to the fire station encountered a balky engine. The battery ran down and 15 or more men took turns cranking. Finally the engine coughed, sputtered and started. CLAUDE GRIM and CONRAD (COONEY) TUCKER rode the truck and the other men followed in cars. Arriving at the scene of the fire they found city equipment on hand from the northern towns of Auburn and Garrett and they had the fire almost out. The Huntertown men had done the best they could, but that didn’t save them from a horrible ribbing.
“Well – look who’s here to put the fire out!” “Darned if it ain’t the good ol’ Hunter-town Fire Department!” “You must’ve stopped somewhere for dinner!” “We’ll let you have what’s left of it!” “Pitch right in, boys, we don’t want you comin’ out here for nothin’!”
All this and more. The men accepted the jibes as best they could, but it was very demoralizing and embarrassing. On the way home, CLAUDE GRIM, said, “COONEY—we’ll just have to get better equipment!”
In 1938 the newly organized Huntertown Lions Club had appointed two men, MERLE KELLAM and COONEY TUCKER, to investigate the fire department as a possible Lions project. COONEY became so interested in fire fighting that he joined the fire department. Later, he reluctantly resigned from the Lions for lack of time to do both – so the Lions Club literally gave COONEY to the fire department and he has proved to be a tower of strength to it. He was elected chief in 1946, and has served continually since, except for 1957 when EINER JENSEN served that year.
COONEY, a former Deputy Sheriff of Allen County, has attended state fire meetings, speaking at many on the subject, and is well-known throughout Indiana in the work of fire prevention. He has worked well in personnel at Huntertown, having a way with youngsters – showing patience and keeping up interest during the training period. This training is valuable because if a lad wants to make it a life work, he is in line to join almost any fire department, and several have. RON HAM went to the Fort Wayne Fire Department, and at present is a captain in the training academy.
Huntertown’s fire department roster shows more than 300 and there are four living charter members – two brothers, EARNEST and ERMAN WARNER, HARVEY GREEN and GENE DUNTEN.
Serving on ambulance runs is good experience for youngsters, too, and makes them far more careful driviers. It worked that way for a grandson, STEPHEN McCOMB, for some of the sights they see when pulling victims from wrecks are not pretty and the lads realize it could happen to them.
In 1955, the fire department was reorganized under the Indiana non-profit Incorpor-ation Act as The Huntertown Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. As such it is the operating organization for Perry Township which provides the housing and main-tenance costs, also two fine fighting trucks that have pumpers with a capacity of 750 gallons of water a minute.
These pumps have a pressure of 850 pounds, and break the water so fine that every bit works on the fire and none is lost to run-off. Since the use of this efficient equipment, no fire has been lost due to lack of water.
Besides the two fire trucks, the department has a tanker, rescue unit, a rescue boat donated by the Crosby Boat Co., and KEITH BENWARD, a 65 foot mounted aerial ladder acquired at a bargain, and last but not least, the process of replacing a worn out ambulance with a new $15,000 fully equipped one.
Ambulance service started 17 years ago at the Huntertown Fire Department when it was realized there were no doctors across the northern part of the county. And the public was awakened when a small girl who attended a basketball game was killed when she ran between parked cars. Her body lay on the street an hour before any ambulance could arrive from Fort Wayne. Within 30 days the first of a number of ambulances used over the years was in service, and the quick response of the citizens made it possible.
As there is no tax fund available for ambulances, the fire department at Huntertown is counting on the same response from its people to provide this one. The late DAVE BERDELMAN laid the groundwork for financing the new ambulance. REV. JAMES DICKEY is chairman of the subscription; GALE JOB, canvass chairman; TERRY STABLER, publicity and MRS. JACK ZIMMERMAN clerical assistant. ANDY GALL is member-at-large. WILLIAM HASKINS, finance chairman and Chief TUCKER, consultant on planning.
The new ambulance will be equipped with the latest life-saving devices and emergency tools to get persons from wrecks. And equally important is the commitment of some 30 men to hundreds of hours of study and training to enable them to use this equipment. Beyond their advance first aid already acquired will be 81 hours of training for emergency medical technician ratings.
The training of firemen in ambulance work extends into emergency rooms of hospitals.
When an ambulance is need, it’s right now; not tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year! Accidents happen, and no one person knows what minute he or she might be in need!
There’s always an exciting story in the fire fighting equipment, but the real story comes from the men who operate it and the people that support it. The present fire department has progressed because it stemmed from the need of the people, and it has always served the people.