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Mutual Aid opens door for departments to assist each other PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 22:26

In 1910 Wauneta’s first volunteer fire-fighting brigade organized, making 1910-11 the department’s 100th anniversary year. To mark the occasion, The Wauneta Breeze will offer a glimpse back in time made possible through old issues of the newspaper. This is the ninth segment in the ongoing series.

 

By Tina Kitt

The Wauneta Breeze

 

Over the course of 50 years, Wauneta’s fire department matured from a bucket brigade to one of the best in the area.

The formation of a Rural Fire District provided the department with some of the most modern equipment available to small town departments, including a new fire truck in 1953, equipped with a tank and pumper to use in attacking rural fires.

Wauneta Volunteer Fire Department members knew first-hand the perils of fire losses and were especially aware of the hazards posed to rural property where fire hydrants were not available to provide a reliable source of water.

‘Even Steckman is Smiling’ reads the subhead on this photo of the Wauneta Volunteer Fire Department taken in 1964 upon the delivery of the Rural Department’s new fire truck. Department members on hand for the photo included, front row from left, Cecil Steckman, Fred Heldenbrand, Bill Winscot, Dale Bischoff, Wilbur Larsen, Lloyd Sinner and Chet Balius. Standing at the far end is Henry Haarberg, president of the Rural Fire District. Second row from left, Gordon Deininger, Ray Hromas, Rodney Harvey, Leland DeHart and Duane Burham. (Wauneta Breeze File Photo)

 

In the fall of 1960, on a Sunday morning in early October, the W.V.F.D. was called to a fire at the Lincoln Brown home 5 miles northwest of Wauneta. “A nice, big two-story house,” recalls former Fire Chief Lloyd Sinner. The departed responded with a fire truck, but at that time did not have a separate tanker truck.

“Nobody was at home at the time. They had all gone to church. We nearly had that fire out when we ran out of water — just 50 gallons more and we could have had it,” said Sinner.

Firefighters drove to the Worth and Lois Kanost farm a mile away to refill the fire truck tank, but by the time they got the truck back to the Browns’ the fire had exploded, consuming the house.

“That was the turning point. We knew we had to have some capacity,” said Sinner.

In 1962, the rural department purchased an $850 truck to be used as a tanker for rural fires. A tank, contributed by Cliff Shackelford, was mounted on the truck providing 850 gallons of water capacity, increasing the ready water capacity for rural fires to 1,350 gallons.

That extra fire-fighting power put the Wauneta department in demand when other departments in the area needed an extra hand. A call came from the Imperial department saying they needed help with a fire near Champion. Firefighters from Wauneta responded, heading west with their equipment after asking the Palisade Fire Department to be on call to cover in case a fire broke out in the Wauneta district while they were out of the area.

The fire in western Chase County was successfully knocked down, but not without raising the ire of some of the Rural Fire District board members.

“We took a chewing,” said Sinner, who served as the W.V.F.D. Fire Chief from 1961 to 1989.

Members of the Rural Board took issue with equipment leaving the district, saying it was too vital have the property of this district protected.

That experience led Sinner and fellow department member Bud Long to initiate plans to form what would later become the Frenchman Mutual Aid District.

In 1962 steps were taken to unite departments from Wauneta, Palisade, Culbertson, Stratton, Trenton, Benkelman and Hayes Center into a rural fire district allowing them to share equipment between districts when needed. In May 1963, six of those communities signed the pact to form a mutual aid district, with Stratton opting not to join.

Sinner was elected president of the group with LeRoy Hood of Palisade elected vice president. Long served as secretary-treasurer.

“Forming a mutual aid district is one of the finest things we’ve done for the citizens of this area,” observed Sinner.

 

Equipment upgrades

In August 1963, board members of the Wauneta Rural Fire District voted to upgrade local equipment even more by purchasing a new rural truck.

They agreed to purchase a Hale pump with a Boyer body with a 500-gallon water capacity. The new truck also featured a self-starting 18-HP pump motor to be installed at the rear of the truck along with “new type nozzles and fiberglass ladders that do not conduct electricty.”

The new Chevy truck was “a heavier truck with a bigger gear system, allowing higher speeds while traveling up hills.”

To make the purchase possible the Village of Wauneta purchased the Rural Department’s old 1953 Ford fire truck for $6,500, and used on a stand-by basis once the new truck arrived.

In February 1964, five members of the department journeyed to Lincoln to accept delivery of the new unit, with Sinner and Long joined by Assistant Fire Chief Leland DeHart and Rural District board members Henry Haarberg and Henry Wicke.

According to the Feb. 13, 1964, issue of the Breeze: “The general feeling among the excited department members is, ‘Wonderful.’ One member, Bud Long, stated that everything is automatic, easy to operate and fully efficient.”

The photo caption headline accompanying a group photo of department members with the new truck reads “Even Steckman is smiling,” referring to department member and local businessman Cecil Steckman.

Once the truck was fully outfitted, the final cost of the new rig was $17,500.

In 1966, a new six-by-six water tanker was added, capable of carrying 1,700 gallons of water for fire-fighting needs.

As more equipment was added, W.V.F.D. members found themselves outgrowing available storage space at the fire hall. In 1969 an building addition was added on. At that time, the Rural District and City District began sharing the cost of the operations and any jointly owned equipment such as the command vehicle.

Along the way to the two districts uniting, noted Sinner, it was required that life insurance be purchased for department members. “We didn’t have that before,” said Sinner.

During his tenure Sinner saw his share of close calls, his own as well as among his department members.

One of the most precarious situations faced was the fire at the Dr. Rider home when Sinner’s wrist was slashed open while forcing a fire hose into the glass blocks of the basement opening. Long had tried to force his way into the basement but collapsed after being overcome by fumes. He was loaded into a car and taken to the hospital in Imperial. Both men made full recoveries.