[cifnmedia] Illnois Volunteer Firefighters Count On Help From Retirees

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 11:24:39 -0800 (PST)

Illnois Volunteer Firefighters Count On Help From Retirees 

 
PHIL LUCIANO
Courtesy of The Peoria Journal Star 

Upon the rare blow of the old whistle, Mason City bristles. 

Like many towns, Mason City's 1,000 residents rely on a volunteer fire 
department. Big fires might prompt a call for assistance from neighboring 
volunteer districts. 

But when a blaze rages with fury, the station blasts the aged whistle. Retired 
firefighters drop everything and hustle out to lend a hand. 

"In a small community, you gotta do what you gotta do," says Kevin Meyer, 
volunteer fire chief in Mason City, 35 miles south of Peoria in the middle of 
crop fields. 

A wild one broke out last week at the Mason City Hotel. The manager, who uses 
oxygen, was smoking. She dropped her cigarette and sparked a chair afire. The 
rushing oxygen fanned the flames. 

The 50-year-old ranch motel went up fast. Its 25 residents, including some 
living in converted apartments, scrambled for safety. An emergency call zapped 
into the fire station. 

Fire calls are automatically relayed by pagers to the department's 26 
firefighters. However, most were out of town at their day jobs. Only 12 
responded to the station. 

"However many guys we get, we get," says Chief Meyer, who works across the 
street from the motel at Illini Central Grade School, where he is head of 
maintenance. 

Noting the low manpower at the motel fire, Meyer called for help from the 
volunteer department in Easton, 10 miles away. 

"The small communities - Easton, us, San Jose - we depend on each other," says 
Meyer, a lifelong resident of Mason City. 

At the scene, he found two unexpected helpers: a volunteer firefighter from New 
Holland who happened to be in town and a volunteer firefighter from Greenview 
who'd heard the call on his scanner and sped to the scene. 

But even under a shower of water, the fire stayed strong. The crew needed help, 
so Chief Meyer put out the call. 

Behind the station stands a phone pole topped with an aged, yellow horn - known 
locally as the fire whistle. Before pagers came along in the '80s, the whistle 
would summon firefighters. 

The whistle stays silent but maybe once or so a year. When it blares - sort of 
like a tornado siren - the town knows there's a hot one. In a flash, retired 
firefighters pitch in. 

"I jumped in my truck and took off," says Bob Griffin, 58, a district manager 
at the National By-products rendering plant, just south of town. 

Griffin, who served on the force from 1972 to 1992, arrived at the motel with 
five other retired volunteers, who ranged in age from late 40s to late 50s. 
Griffin drove a tanker truck back and forth to the motel. Other retirees helped 
out in other backup roles, such as driving their pickup trucks to shuttle air 
tanks back to the station for refilling. 

Griffin and the others fought the blaze for several hours. The fire leveled the 
motel, but all residents got out alive. 

Chief Meyer, 46, says he's always trying to recruit 20-something firefighters. 
But with few businesses in town, the department rarely sees new prospects. 

So, Mason City will continue to depend on help from Griffin and other retired 
volunteers. 

Griffin is approaching 60, an age where most retired firefighters stay retired. 
But Griffin says he'll keep his ear tilted toward the station: He'll show up to 
fires "as long as they keep blowing the whistle." 


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Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network
cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
www.geocities.com/central_illinois_firenet


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