Volunteer fire department celebrates 100 years

 Firefighters are called from jobs, hunting, or dinner with family and aren’t paid

By Beth LeBlanc
Times Herald (Port Huron)

APPLEGATE, Mich. (AP) — There won’t be much fanfare surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Applegate Fire Department, but assistant chief Steve Schneider said the small village knows the value of its volunteer force all the same.

“We get a lot of support from the community,” Schneider told the Times Herald of Port Huron. “We just want to let people know we’ve been around that long.”

Applegate Fire Department celebrated 100 years of fighting fires this spring. Started in 1914, the department now has about 18 volunteer firefighters and covers about 42 square miles.

Schneider said the department has been making ends meet since its inception, providing a big service to a small area.

The department’s equipment includes a repurposed ambulance that now serves as a rescue unit, a tanker that was once a garbage truck and a 1968 truck used for grass fires, on loan from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The department has responded to about 11 calls so far this year, but Applegate Fire Chief Jeff Johnston said the calls don’t account for all the time firefighters devote to the village.

“We don’t have a lot of runs, but we still need to have the same training that the big cities have,” Johnston said.

“The government standards are so stringent now, and we have to comply like everyone else, even though we may have 10 or 15 runs a year.”

Without the Applegate Fire Department, residents in the department’s coverage area would have to wait for responders from the nearest fire departments in Croswell or Carsonville.

“It’s just a matter of logistics,” Schneider said.

“If they took us out, it would tack on a minimum of 10 minutes response time from another department.”

Schneider said the fire department is purely volunteer — firefighters are called from their full-time jobs, hunting, or dinner with families and aren’t paid for their assistance.

“I don’t know that a lot of people really appreciate what’s going on when they call us,” Schneider said. “A lot of people don’t realize the man hours that the firemen have to take away from their families and to be trained and be professionals,” Johnston said.

But Schneider said some residents do realize what it takes to make the department tick.

Recently, the fire department held a pancake breakfast to raise money for a new rescue unit to replace its hand-me-down ambulance.

About 650 people attended the fundraiser, “which is a lot when you think there’s only 258 people in Applegate,” Schneider said.

Schneider said the department’s twice-a-year pancake breakfasts are its largest fundraiser.

It also gets money from the village and surrounding townships.

Johnston said many villagers attend the breakfast as do people as far south as Port Huron and as far north as Bad Axe.

“The fire department’s a brotherhood and a camaraderie, and we’re all there for the same reason: To help the community,” Johnston said.

“It’s a big part of a small town because it’s been there for 100 years.”