Charleston Volunteer Fire Department Very Much Appreciated

The Charleston Volunteer Fire Department was presented a plaque of appreciation at the annual Chamber Banquet that was held last Saturday at the Charleston Middle School cafeteria. Present and past members of the fire department were given the plaque in appreciation of all they have done for Charleston and the surrounding area throughout the years.

In presenting the award Frank Hug told a little of the history of how the fire department came about. In the city elections of 1948, six young veterans from World War II were elected, A. R Schaffer, mayor; Everett Buckner, T.J. Burt, Delmer Monroe and Roy Warnock, councilmen; and Theodore Classen, recorder, Frank said. Their main concern was providing the City of Charleston with adequate modern fire fighting equipment, he added. "After a series of articles explaining the fire fighting needs, the raising of the money and finding a volunteer to act as fire chief, this goal was accomplished." Many other veterans with American Legion assisted and were successful in purchasing the first City of Charleston fire truck, Frank said.

The fire truck was purchased and was driven to Charleston by the manufacturer. A driver was sent with the truck to instruct fire fighters how to use it.

On its way to Charleston the driver and new truck encountered a fire, in Booneville, MO., Frank said. "Having filled the truck with water to ease the ride to Charleston the truck was ready." When the Mayor of Booneville arrived on the scene he remarked, "I didn’t know we had a fire truck!" On the truck door it read "Charleston AR — Fire Department."

Booneville, MO was lucky that day, Frank said. Truck #1 was prepared with a fire fighter on board. In the past 13 months we have witnessed two major fires that threatened our town, Frank said. "When the Charleston Fire Department saved downtown we thought we were very lucky that most of downtown was not in ashes. We thought we were lucky to have such a prepared and willing volunteer fire department."

Earlier this week Mayor Sherman Hiatt explained that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, Frank added. "Luck, you see, had nothing to do with it."

Prepared is what our volunteer fire department is, Frank said. "A roster of 25 people volunteer to be on call 24/7, prepared, willing and able to race, at a moment’s notice to face a wall of fire or whatever challenge lies in front of them. Those two major fires last year, Medlock Forest Products and H & H Rebuilders, were battles in which fire had all of the advantages. Wind rushing through stacks of pallets. You could not build a better bonfire in my opinion."

But the fire at Charlie’s place was a better bonfire, Frank said. "The wood was over 100 years old, and just as nicely stacked. In fact it was stacked beautifully. Two weeks before the fire I stood in Charlie’s building and marveled at the magnificent structure. It was built around 1903 as a lumber yard. Charlie said his wife’s stepfather Virgil Kaylor drove a team and wagon to town and hauled lumber from Wheatley Lumber Company to build his house. I am sure that effort was repeated a lot."

So the fires had the advantage of being first on the scene and very large but the Charleston Volunteer fire department won, Frank said. "There was no saving either of the buildings that caught fire and we lost Don White’s building adjacent to Charlie’s, but all others were saved. That is where preparation met opportunity and we have our fire fighters to thank."

Charleston firefighters meet twice a month to train and check and maintain equipment. Charleston actually has two fire departments-Charleston Rural and City of Charleston, but those rosters are made up of the same group of men. Equipment for both is stored and maintained at two city fire stations and a rural station at Vesta. There are nine vehicles in the fleet and plenty of equipment that must be maintained. In fact David Rice and Mayor Hiatt both mentioned this week that some of our fire suits did not meet standard this year because of their age and we must find ways to replace them, Frank said.

Charleston is also fortunate to have had several professional fire fighters on staff in the past as well as right now, Frank said. "These men are natural mentors for volunteers they work beside here and are invaluable part of our department. Charleston Fire Chief Shawn Lovett is a Fort Smith firefighter. Mike Haynes is a Fort Smith Fire Department Captain and Rick Rainwater volunteered many years while serving on the Fort Smith Fire department."

It is very common for firemen to fight local fires even when they are not on the volunteer roster, Frank said. "E. J. Neissl, while not on the volunteer roster, was one of the professional firemen who showed up to help with local fires. Fort Smith fireman John Groen saw H&H on fire and stopped while passing through town, grabbed a fire jacket from David Rice and went to work." That is where preparation meets opportunity, Frank added.

Firefighters define courage, Frank told the crowd. "There are not many volunteer groups who are expected to be on call 24/7, leave their job at a moment’s notice, or put down children and rush to the scene of an emergency, placing themselves in harm’s way for the sake of quite often, a complete stranger’s life."

We may take for granted the time and effort that goes into the hundreds of hours of training that these men put forth, all the dinners they miss or the time away from their family because of their dedication to helping others, Frank said. "But it is not only the firefighters and rescue personnel that make sacrifices while serving our community, but also the families that allow you to do this special voluntary work." We also want to say thank you to your families, he added. "Thank-you for allowing your lives and time with your brave loved one to be interrupted and endangered. Your support and sacrifice is priceless not only to your loved one but to all of us in the community of Charleston, as well."

We as your neighbors, friends and community have a responsibility to you, our firefighters and rescue personnel and your families, Frank said. "When we hear a whistle blow or the sirens of a rescue vehicle, we can stop what we are doing to pray for your safe return, your families and those you are about to assist."

"I would like express on behalf of the Chamber and all within the community of Charleston, our sincere gratitude to each and every one of you on the Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue for the time and dedication you and your families put forth to protect our community."

We commend Charleston’s bravest for your efforts, kindness and your professionalism, Frank said. "You are our heroes."