|Fighting fires is a family thing|
|Written by Chris Lee|
It began in 1984 when Lee Struckmeyer got the ball rolling on creating a fire department in the Wages area southwest of Holyoke. He is quick to say it wasn’t just him that got the department started.
There had been two homes in the area burn down which got neighbors thinking maybe a volunteer fire department could help give a little more protection.
One year later, a truck was purchased which was the official start of Wages Volunteer Fire Department. It was formed as a joint venture with Haxtun, Holyoke, Wray and Yuma fire departments.
One year later in 1986, Lee’s son Damon joined at the young age of 18. Twenty-six years later, Damon’s daughter Mariah has joined. Damon’s wife Pam, brother and sister-in-law Del and Jennifer Struckmeyer and brother Kipp are also on the department, as is their nephew Darren Stewart.
“We make up 42 percent of the department,” Damon said of the Struckmeyer family.
Three generations are currently on the department fighting fires together and there are two other Struckmeyers who without a doubt will join when they are old enough. Mariah’s younger brothers Sidney and Baylor will be chomping at the bit to join until they are able to when they turn 18.
Mariah joined this year just after her 18th birthday which was March 11. “It’s a bit of a family affair,” she said. The choice to join, however, became a little tougher after one particular March Sunday afternoon.
She remembers driving to the Yuma hospital March 18 with tears in her eyes and worry on her mind. She had been notified that her mom and dad had been stuck in the fire and her dad received some bad burns.
“They could have died,” Mariah said of her parents. Fortunately, no one died in the Heartstrong fire—just some burns were received.
Not too long after the fire, Mariah knew she still wanted to join—so she did. She has only been on two calls but has enjoyed the new venture so far.
“It is a way to give back,” Mariah said of her choice to join. “We have awesome neighbors.”
Her parents didn’t really bat an eye when she decided to join. “I was really thankful she hadn’t joined before the fire (Heartstrong Fire),” Mariah’s mom Pam said.
Lee, Mariah and Damon Struckmeyer are pictured by one of the Wages Fire Department trucks. The three represent three generations serving on the fire department.
Mariah is currently living in Sterling where she will attend college this fall. She hopes to knock out some general education classes before moving into nursing and then becoming a certified paramedic. She has been third riding with the Sterling ambulance crews since moving there. This has given her the opportunity to put her skills to test while also learning more about the job.
Although she is interested in firefighting, it’s the medical side that tickles her interest. She has taken and passed an EMT class and is waiting to take her national registry exam.
There are currently first responders and certified EMTs on the Wages Fire Department. At least six or seven of the firefighters have also been through the Firefighter One training class.
To keep up on their skills, the department takes advantage of training at the state convention and tags along with other area departments throughout the year.
Wages Fire Department averages anywhere from nine to 42 calls a year. Most of the fires have been grass or pasture fires, but they run on the occasional structure fire. The department has also purchased extrication equipment so they assist people during traffic accidents.
Three of the nine founding members are still active within the department. They include Lee, Vern Harding and Dave Crossland.
Lee remembers sitting at his own mother’s funeral when he got a page that his pasture was on fire. That “should I stay or should I go” feeling swept over him, but that was one time where he said he had to stay. “They took care of it,” he said of his fellow firefighters.
Another unique call was a fire in the top of a tree. Lee said they didn’t have enough water pressure to reach the top so they let the tree burn down to where they could get water on it.
Damon said being a subdistrict to four other districts gives them the opportunity to run on numerous calls. They have helped with a grass fire in Kansas and helped Holyoke and Amherst with an anhydrous tank rollover east of town just to name a few. More recently, some of the firefighters went down to help with the massive Last Chance fire.
Damon said the toughest call was when their son Westyn drowned in the family pool in 2006. All of the firefighters have CPR training and they did what they could to try and save their son that tragic day.
Wages has had as many as 21 members and as few as nine at different times. “We’ve kind of been a springboard for a lot of people,” Damon said. Many of the members have gone on to professional firefighting school.
Twenty-seven years ago, they began with one truck. They now have two fire trucks, a water tanker and a suburban (personnel carrier).
With his granddaughter now on the department, Lee still responds to calls. “He picks up his walker,” Damon joked with a chuckle.
Holyoke Enterprise July 26, 2012