Volunteer firefighter hangs up hat after 45 years

By Marcus Clem
Atchison Globe – March 16, 2018

Photo by Marcus Clem

After what is likely among the longest unbroken periods of service in state history, the senior rural firefighter in Atchison County has called it a career.

Charles Falk Jr., who has gone by “Chic” since young adulthood to keep from being confused with his father at job sites and fire scenes, served for 45 years. He joined the Atchison County Rural Fire District No. 1 (Shannon Township), on Feb. 10, 1973, based first at 520 Woodlawn Ave., and today in the 2500 block of US-73 Highway at the district’s new fire station.

As far as Falk knows, he’s been around for so long that most of his friends have practically forgotten his name isn’t actually “Chic.”

“It’s a good time for me to get out,” he said in a Thursday interview. “I’m slowing down, and these days the trucks are getting so complicated that you need these young guys to keep up with everything.”

District Fire Chief David “Spider” Shell, has himself been involved for more than 30 years, but said he’ll never equal the impact Falk has made.

“I’d like to say I can put in 15 more, but I’ll never beat him,” Shell said in a Thursday interview. “You know, we got the greatest bunch of guys. It’s so nice to see guys feel ready to leave, and celebrate their retirement, instead of just working til they pass on. But that dedication, that’s what it’s all about.”

Kevin Flory, president of the Kansas State Firefighters’ Association, said no definitive record of volunteer firefighters’ careers is kept on a statewide basis, but he estimated that Falk has completed a historic commitment.

“He has finished an extra long career,” Flory said in a Thursday phone interview. “With most guys in the volunteer service, really serving two decades is a valued commitment. 45 years, that’s a long, hard, extraordinary career. Congratulations to him on a well-deserved retirement.”

Wes Lanter, Atchison County director of the Department of Emergency Management, who also works as a rural firefighter, said Falk has been a “real asset.”

“It’s been great to see him dedicate that much to our citizens, and always free of charge,” Lanter said. “He would bend over backwards to do pretty much everything you ever asked of him.

Falk said he felt more confident in making the decision to retire because, unlike some volunteer outfits, the Shannon district has no shortage of volunteers. With only 9 men for the whole county when he started, the district now supports 25 volunteers, in addition to the rest of the districts across the county.

There is a waiting list to join, so Shell has the ability to make sure that the men who will replace Falk are among the best available.

Demand is high given the equipment available with the new fire station and the level of valuable training that can be provided to people who want to pursue firefighting as a way of life.

“We have a lot of good, young people coming,” Shell said. “We’re very proud of our new station. We went through the hoops and managed to get it, and it’s helped us out tremendously. This has been a blessing.”

Even so, Falk and Shell agreed, the past shouldn’t be forgotten, and they are maintaining a 1966 Ford pumper truck, which has been in service for the district’s entire history, and which was the first vehicle Falk used.

“The old chief’s body would turn over in his grave if we got rid of that,” Shell said. “But it’s still serviceable. We might get it fixed up for a parade.”

Falk said he is especially thankful that in his entire career, only one person has died after firefighters arrived on scene. Most of his experience has been in keeping grass and agricultural fires under control, away from vulnerable people, with occasional structure and vehicle fires.

“It makes you feel good when you can help people out,” he said.

Meanwhile, Falk will continue to respond to fires when there is a job for him to do, he said, as long as he can, though he is no longer insurable by the fire district and will avoid fighting structure fires or other significant hazards.

He let out a hearty chuckle when asked how he would respond if someone asked, ‘Aren’t you retired?’

“The hell I am,” he said. “They haven’t kicked me out of the building yet.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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