Dedication continues 50 years later
While the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Department has experienced many changes since its inception 50 years ago, one thing remains constant: its commitment to service.
The 40 firefighters and associate members who make up today’s department that serves the 113 square miles of Blue River, Jackson and Spencer townships in northern Harrison County, celebrated its golden anniversary Saturday with open houses for the public at its three stations and capped off the day with a program that evening at Unity Chapel United Methodist Church for past and present ‘ and maybe some future ‘ members.
Don Hanen, who’s been on the department since 1986, was the organizer of the celebration.
Each of the firehouses had different events: the first station, located in Ramsey, had a coloring contest for children and a bouncy house; at the New Salisbury station, firefighters demonstrated the ‘jaws of life’ and showed off the fire department’s recently purchased 75-foot ladder truck; and, in Frenchtown, guests, young and old alike, could try their hand at holding a fire hose while shooting a stream of water.
For the evening event, the current members donned their new Class A uniforms.
It was on July 10, 1961, that the fire department’s articles of incorporation were approved by the Indiana Secretary of State’s office. Three of the founding members were attendance Saturday: Billy J. Davis, Jim Leffler and Paul (Pete) Martin, who still serves on the department.
The idea for a fire department came from members of the Ramsey Spencer Grange, who started having public meetings two years earlier about how to form a fire department.
‘They met all kinds of resistance in the beginning,’ Jeremy Leffler, who served on the Ramsey VFD from 1993 to 2011 and is now a captain with the Lyndon (Ky.) Fire Department. ‘Some people didn’t see a need for a fire department.’
Donations allowed for the purchase of the department’s first fire truck, a 1953 Reo pumper that cost $500.
‘It was determined that they needed a steady income’ to buy additional equipment, Leffler said, so they started having barbecue chicken dinners, which were ‘very, very popular.’
Initially held annually, the dinners are now held twice a year.
‘As the department grew, we needed to add equipment,’ Dennis Lemmel, who has been on the department since 1983, said.
Ramsey was the first fire department in the area to acquire the ‘jaws of life,’ a device mostly used to aid rescue workers in removing people from mangled vehicles.
The department now houses 14 vehicles at its three stations.
Robert (Bob) Pate, who has the longest tenure as the department’s treasurer (29 years), told how most everything has gone up in price ‘ electricity from $7.80 to $400 per month; LP gas from 15 cents a gallon to $1.20; and fuel, ‘we won’t even talk about that’ ‘ except for the phone bill.
Without a central dispatch in its early days, firefighters relied on Norman and Roxanne Swarens to answer calls for help then send the firefighters to the proper locations.
Ned Wiseman, the current fire chief, said past and present members ‘built a solid foundation’ for the department, which now has a waiting list of people who want to serve.
‘The current members now, sooner or later, will be role models to the new ones coming on,’ said Wiseman, who started in fire service when he was 14 with older members helping him out ‘tremendously’ and is now a paid firefighter in Louisville.
He expressed appreciation to the township trustees and the Harrison County Board of Commissioners for helping the department financially during the past 50 years.
Firefighters do more than put out fires, Wiseman said. They do community service projects such as Career Day at schools and collect money for the WHAS Crusade for Children. (Ramsey VFD has turned in more than $172,000 to the Crusade since 1996, the first year Hanen could find records of donations for the fire department.)
While improved equipment, such as turn-out gear, breathing apparatuses, thermal imaging cameras and traffic vests, has increased safety for the firefighters, the risks have grown. Wiseman said they now have to be concerned with air bags in vehicles, high voltage in hybrid vehicles and methamphetamine labs in homes.
Seventy percent of runs today have nothing to do with fires, Martin said.
Wiseman thanked the families of firefighters for their understanding when calls for service get in the way of spending time together.
Assistant fire chief Roscoe Meek, who talked about the department’s future, said that 72 percent of all firefighters in the United States are volunteers, saving communities about $40,000 to $45,000 a year per firefighter.
Hanen spoke briefly about 9/11 and a flag he had carried in his truck as a way to remember the ‘343 emergency workers (who) lost their life that day.’ During a recent visit to Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, Hanen left his flag. He hopes to return to Shanksville once the memorial to the victims is completed.
Awards were presented near the program’s conclusion. Among them were: five-year pins to Ray Harris and Vanessa Barr; 10-year pin to John Gott; 15-year pin to Trevor Whittaker; 25-year pins to Don Hanen and Russell Sieg; and a 50-year pin, as well as a lifetime membership and ‘gold card’ to Martin.
M. Paul Holcomb, District 16 chairman of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association, helped distribute the awards.
Boy Scout Troop 4071 presented the colors and led the pledge of allegiance.
Mary Long, wife of former firefighter Andy Long who is a state fire marshal, played the piano, including military songs in honor of veterans, and led everyone in singing the national anthem prior to the meal.
The Rev. Jeff Reed, pastor at Unity Chapel, gave the invocation before the meal, which was prepared by church members.