Firefighters seeking volunteers
Recent growth in county taxes fire departments
Fire trucks don't drive themselves.
Tom Pulkrabek, chief of Tonganoxie Township's rural fire department, said former city residents may not realize the importance of becoming involved in rural fire departments.
DELAWARE TOWNSHIP 111 E. Kansas, Lansing, 66043; 913-727-5844 Chief: Rick Huhn
EASTON TOWNSHIP 108 E. Riley, Easton, 66020; 913-773-5504 Chief: Jim Herken III
FAIRMOUNT TOWNSHIP No. 1 2624 155th St., Basehor, 66007 913-724-4911 No. 2 16376 158th St., Bonner Springs, 66012 (no phone) Chief: Jeff Theno
KICKAPOO TOWNSHIP 32498 Easton Rd., Leavenworth, 66048 913-682-9072 Chief: Kenny Heintzelman
RENO TOWNSHIP 12755 238th St., Linwood, 66052; 913-723-3498 Chief: Richard Ogden
SHERMAN TOWNSHIP 400 Main, Linwood, 66052; 913-301-3400 Chief: Dan Tallman
STRANGER TOWNSHIP 19501 State Ave., Tonganoxie, 66086 913-845-9304 Chief: Ben Hayes
TONGANOXIE TOWNSHIP 19009 McLouth Rd., Tonganoxie, 66086 913-845-3801 Chief: Tom Pulkrabek
TONGANOXIE CITY 825 E. 4th St., Tonganoxie, 66086; 913-845-9494 Deputy Chief and Training Officer: David Bennett
"A majority of these people are moving out here from the city and they don't realize or understand that fire protection is provided by people like themselves," Pulkrabek said.
A rural fire department depends on having volunteers to fight fires.
"Out here, if the volunteers don't go to the station and get the truck, the truck doesn't roll," Pulkrabek said.
Looking for people
Ben Hayes, chief of Stranger Township's fire department, also wants to recruit more firefighters.
"I would love to have another 10 people people who are going to show up most of the time and work at it," Hayes said.
Currently, Stranger Township has 17 volunteer firefighters. But because most of them work in the Kansas City area, during the weekday hours, there may only be one or two firefighters able to respond to calls.
Hayes' department covers a 5-by-10-mile swath, which includes about 1,200 households.
Stranger Township isn't the only fire department with few firefighters available on weekdays, said Pulkrabek.
Of Stranger Township's 15 volunteer firefighters, Pulkrabek, who is retired, is often the only firefighter in the area. And even then, it takes him about eight minutes to travel from his house to the fire station and get a fire truck on the road.
"It's not a good idea to ever be out on a fire call by yourself," Pulkrabek said. "What you would do is call in mutual aid and hope there's a firefighter or two around from neighboring departments."
On the road
Richard Ogden, chief of Reno Township's fire department, agrees.
Ogden is retired. Of the 17 firefighters in Reno Township, all but Ogden and two other firefighters are usually out of town on weekdays.
Reno Township is unique in that firefighters are responsible for covering accidents along a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 70, which includes the turnpike's Lawrence service area.
"There are lots of medical calls and wrecks around the service area," Ogden said.
In recent years, rural fire departments have seen a sharp increase in calls. For instance, Ogden said in 2001 his unit had about 70 calls. And already this year they've run on 104 calls.
Most of Reno Township's fire calls have nothing to do with fires.
"We don't have too many house fires, maybe two a year," Ogden said. "It seems like the medical calls are our biggest thing, and we run a lot of vehicle accidents on the turnpike, K-32 and 24-40. We've got a lot of highway in Reno Township."
The turnpike presents its own challenge, Ogden said.
"The worst thing about the turnpike is the speed," Ogden said. "They're going fast and they don't want to slow down if there's an accident you've really got to watch your backside."
Ogden said, when his department is shorthanded or there's a major fire or accident, he doesn't know what he'd do if he couldn't call for assistance from other fire departments.
"That's the beauty of this Leavenworth County mutual aid program," Ogden said. "If we get something and it's too big for us to handle, all we've got to do is start calling for help."
Even so, it's important that people continue to volunteer for fire departments. Ogden said four volunteers signed on at a recent open house.
All ages welcome
Pulkrabek said all adults, men and women, are welcome to participate in the fire departments.
"The older retired people say that's a young man's deal," Pulkrabek said. "But it comes down to there's a lot of things around the station that the older people could get involved with at the fire department. They don't have to be out there fighting the fires."
Hayes said he depends on stories in the newspaper and advertisements to spread the news about the importance of volunteering for local fire departments. He said he's even considered sending letters to everyone who lives in his township.
Pulkrabek said it's crucial that people continue to volunteer with their local fire departments.
"Their taxes pay for the equipment," Pulkrabek said. "But their taxes do not guarantee that the equipment will roll."