A hundred years ago this month, the old Ott brewery building, which was being converted to soda pop after the county went dry, caught fire late at night.
According to the Chieftain: "Chas Yondall, on discovering what was wrong, procured a pistol and began firing it, and that, with someone ringing the fire bell, soon drew a large crowd to the conflagration. The first on the scene procured the hose and attached it to the plug north of the Red Front livery barn, but by that time, the fire had gained a footing and the pressure of the water was inadequate until the pump was started 20 minutes later...As good luck would have it, there was no wind stirring and a barn, and the roller rink, and a bottling works across the street were saved by the volunteer fire company."
Times have changed in the firefighting business in Wallowa County - except for the fact that volunteer firefighters from all walks of life still answer the call to fires. Nowadays, fires are usually reported to 911 and the firefighters summoned via beeper rather then pistol shots or someone ringing a bell.
In recent months, two new fire chiefs of the Enterprise and Joseph volunteer fire departments have been working together to make traditionally close ties even closer to improve the safety of both cities.
Paul Karvoski, who became Enterprise fire chief after the retirement of long-time chief Russ Gomes, and Kevin Warnock, who succeeded Joseph chief Herman Ortmann when he moved out of the county, recently planned a joint training session on Thursday evenings two weeks in a row to be able to better assist in traffic accidents. The second week, Tom Baird, chief of the Wallowa department, and four Wallowa firemen also joined in.
The departments all have Jaws of Life extrication equipment and the training was to better learn how to operate the Jaws equipment, as well as air bags and other paraphernalia. Six vehicles had been donated to the cause, and the departments had a great time cutting open the cars like a tin can.
"We're getting called on traffic accidents more often, not just fires," Warnock said about the roles volunteer firefighters play in modern times.
The Joseph and Enterprise fire departments have long had a mutual aid agreement, where they can ask each other for help if needed, but are now preparing an automatic agreement which could improve both cities' insurance ratings and under which they would automatically respond to structure fires in each other's jurisdictions.
At full strength, both the Joseph and Enterprise departments have 22 members; at present, Enterprise doesn't need new volunteers but Joseph, which has only 15 firefighters, is a little short-handed.
"We're looking for new recruits, new volunteers who can get away from work for fires and training when they need to be able to," Warnock said. The Joseph department is a true volunteer force - while the city pays so much per member for meetings and by the hour for fire calls, the money is put back into the department for extra expense, such as T-shirts and food for barbecues.
Officers on the Joseph department include assistant chief Tom Clevenger, who is also a training officer, and captains Stewart Jones, Keith Newberg and Matt Walker. The Joseph force answered about 25 calls last year.
Warnock - a former Joseph mayor whose father and grandfather were both Joseph fire chiefs - notes that volunteerism in American is on the decline in general. He feels that being a volunteer fire fighter is a way of giving back to the community.
In addition to the camaraderie that develops among fellow firefighters, the main reward is "the pure good feeling you have inside" knowing that you are helping to protect your friends and neighbors. "Sooner or later you are going to be at someone's house putting out a fire in the middle of the night," he said. He added that the employers who allow their workers to respond to fires deserve special thanks.
Enterprise chief Karvoski said that, once accepted in a department, a volunteer starts working for basic entry level classification, and then for a Firefighter-1 certificate. The recent "jaws" training was part of ongoing training that goes on all year - both Joseph and Enterprise meet every Thursday night.
Enterprise firefighters are paid by the city for meetings and time they spend on fires, and are also covered by a pension fund if they stay on the department enough years.
Officers on the Enterprise Fire Department include assistant chief Dan Niezen, captains Kelly Gomes and Casey Jones and lieutenants Ron Neil and Chuck Simpson. The department answered a total of 51 calls during 2005.
"Our cooperation is good for both communities," Karvoski said about working closer together with Joseph. He said that the two departments will be using an old house for another cooperative training starting Thursday this week and continuing on a Saturday later this month.
Fire prevention weekWarnock said that the focus during National Fire Prevention Week - celebrated this week, Oct 8 - 14 - is preventing kitchen fires, and encourages caution while cooking.
Enterprise chief Karvoski, who is also Wallowa County Fire Chief, said he would like to remind everyone to change their smoke detector batteries during October as a way of preventing serious fires.