County bestNew equipment, new members and life saved earned the Summit Volunteer Fire Department the title of 2009 department of the year in Douglas County. “To stand out among your peers – that really says something,” said Keith Kesler, Brule fire chief and secretary for the Vacationland Fire and Emergency Association, which presented the award last month.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
New equipment, new members and life saved earned the Summit Volunteer Fire Department the title of 2009 department of the year in Douglas County.
“To stand out among your peers – that really says something,” said Keith Kesler, Brule fire chief and secretary for the Vacationland Fire and Emergency Association, which presented the award last month.
The association encompasses 18 volunteer fire departments in Douglas County. Every year, one is singled out for the award.
“It is hard to pick one,” said Brian Laverdiere, town of Superior fire chief. “Everyone deserves it.”
All the departments do their best, agreed Highland Fire Chief Ron Cairns, whose department won the award in 2008.
“It’s really hard to find someone who stands out,” he said.
Summit has been replacing old equipment and infusing the department with new members.
“They had some of the oldest equipment” in the county, Laverdiere said, including a 1975 pumper and a 1974 brush truck. The vehicles made it to the calls, but didn’t always leave in a timely fashion.
“Sometimes they couldn’t get going after the scene of the fire,” said Summit Fire Chief Steve Fegraeus.
In the past two years, the 1970s-era vehicles have been replaced with a 2007 pumper, paid for with a FEMA grant and 2008 pumper/tanker purchased with a grant from East Central Energy.
“These are really nice to work with; more dependable,” Fegraeus said. Their Compressed Air Foam systems allow firefighters to hose fires down with piles of foam, using a third of the water they used to.
The Summit roster is growing, with three new Emergency Medical Responders set to finish training soon. They are based at two fire stations that cover 140 square miles, including a large stretch of county forest land. With many members who work in the town of Summit, the fire department can respond quickly to calls for mutual aid from other departments.
“We can get there sometimes faster than they can get there,” Fegraeus said.
Summit firefighters work well together.
“It’s a fun-loving bunch but when you need it everybody’s serious,” said Summit Firefighter Gary Wanek. “You get the job done.”
In 2009, the department responded to 72 calls, from grass fires and medical runs to mutual aid requests. This year’s numbers will be higher, Fegraeus predicted. Add in training – 60 hours just to become a basic firefighter, another 60 for the next level, and 54 to be an EMT – as well as monthly meetings and refresher classes.
“It’s not easy to be a fireman any more,” Laverdiere said.
But the work they do is critical.
This spring, Summit firefighters played a role in saving the life of a Wisconsin State Trooper whose heart stopped while they were battling an outbuilding blaze on his property.
When something like that happens, said Summit Firefighter Andrew James, “it’s definitely worth any amount of time that you spend training.”
It takes a special breed of person to be a volunteer firefighter, Fegraeus said.
“There are not many people who want to risk their lives going into a burning building and not get paid for it,” he said.
Summit volunteers say they do it to help others.
“It’s giving back to your community,” said Summit Firefighter Dale Rochon.
Other Douglas County firefighters feel the same.
“We do it for a reason – just to help,” Laverdiere said.
Summit is a good department and they deserved the 2009 award, he said. But all volunteer firefighters deserve a pat on the back, Cairns added.
“You can never thank them enough, the volunteers,” the Highland chief said. “It’s really hard to keep volunteers interested. I always try to thank them for what they do.”
And, according to all four fire chiefs, new members are always appreciated. To learn more about volunteering, contact a current member of the volunteer fire department or call the Be Somebody hotline at (888) 926-1676.