Wilson County Fire Department celebrates half century of service

Neodesha Derrick – March 20, 2014
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – March 27, 2014

Fifty years ago, the Wilson County Fire District #1 was formed and in celebration of that event, present day rural firefighters and other interested residents met this last weekend at the Old Iron Club Meeting Room east of Fredonia. Presently, the district has 14 fire trucks and two tankers and is led by Chairman Rod Vorhees, Vice-chairman Jeff Cox and Secretary-Treasurer Carl Reaves. Fifty years ago, it was a different department with humble beginnings.

At that time, Fredonia and Neodesha both had fire departments but the rest of the towns in Wilson County had either none or more rudimentary fire protection and the rural areas essentially had only what little protection the area towns could provide. With the founding and ensuing growth of the rural fire district, the whole of Wilson County came to have more reliable from the potential ravages of fire outbreaks.

Over the years, rural fire has fought countless grass fires, house and other types of building fires and has been called to vehicle and plane crashes, chemical spills and other sorts of emergencies. Many times they have engaged in actions of mutual aid to surrounding counties as well as communities in Wilson County where needed. In turn all of these entities have assisted the Wilson County Rural Fire District.

On January 30, 1964 the Wilson County Board of County Commissioners, comprised at that time of Harry L. Orendorff, Robert Hill and Charles R. Head, along with Wilson County Agricultural Extension Agent Dan Pherigo, traveled to Elk and Chautauqua Counties to view firefighting equipment and to discuss rural fire protection. This action led to further meetings by various rural governing bodies which eventually led to the forming of a rural fire district in Wilson County.

In March of 1964, an executive committee for the rural fire district was elected. Officers chosen were Ralph Vandaveer Jr. chairman; McCager Thompson, vice-chairman; and Marvin Ambrose, secretary. The following month, the Wilson County Commission passed a resolution which led to the forming of a district in Wilson County “for the protection of lives and property from the hazards of fire and that all of the area in all of the townships in Wilson County be included and organized as Fire District #1.” Excluded were the incorporated cities of the second and third class, Altoona, Benedict, Buffalo, Coyville, Fredonia, Neodesha and New Albany.

Following that action, several men representing different parts of the county, traveled to Manhattan to secure military surplus vehicles which would eventually serve as firefighting units for the rural district. Those making the jaunt were Morris Forsythe of Altoona; Edwin York, Bill Gudde and Ralph Vandaveer Jr., all of Neodesha; Emmett Miller of Coyville; and Frank Baker and Dan Pherigo from Fredonia. Five 6×6 2.5 ton military trucks were purchased for $1.00 each. Those vehicles were later outfitted with water tanks, pumps and fire hoses.

Within a year, the rural department would add more vehicles. By 1965, there were six 6x6s, two 2x4s and one straight two-ton truck with fire equipment on them as well as two jeeps and one pickup equipped as well and dispersed around the county, mostly in small communities.

About this time, a second district was formed in the far northeast portion of the county in Colfax Township but in 1967 that district merged with District 1 and the organization became a county unit.

One of its earlier responses to an emergency came in early March of 1967 when a large fire in the northwest part of Wilson County burned an estimated 6,000 acres of grass and timber west of Delaware Springs over a period of three days. A cabin and outbuilding at the Presbyterian Church camp were burned as well as an old barn. Fourteen rural fire trucks from Wilson County with three and four-man crews were on duty throughout the weekend. Fire trucks from Greenwood County also assisted.

In 1971, Wilson County Rural Fire District board requested the Wilson County Commissioners transfer power to the Wilson County Rural Fire District. In 1973, the City of Altoona passed a resolution requesting the Wilson County Commissioners to remove the mill levy that the residents of Altoona were paying on the Wilson County Rural Fire District for the purpose of maintaining their own trucks and fire department. With Altoona leaving the rural fire district, the boundaries of the present day district were set and have not changed.

At the present time the district has 14 fire trucks and two tankers.

As the Wilson County Rural Fire Department celebrates 50 years of serving the citizens of Wilson County, those many volunteers and contributors can look back with pride on all their endeavors which provided fire protection to rural county residents.

“An immeasurable number of hours by a countless number of volunteers have all gone into making the district a success over the past 50 years and the district owes thanks of gratitude to all who have helped the district get to this point,” said Voorhees.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

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