Thedford, Nebraska, raises new fire hall
February 14, 2018
Thedford – "…Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." – Harry S. Truman
The leaders and builders within the 1,184 sections of ground that comprises the Thedford Volunteer Fire and Rescue district have certainly changed things for the better with the completion of the new fire hall on the east edge of Thedford, across from the Upper Loup NRD.
The old fire hall sat on the south west side of Main street, downtown Thedford, close to the railroad tracks. It was tight.
"We have 2 ambulances, 2 grass rigs, 2 tankers (water hauling trucks), 1 engine, 1 extraction rig as well as the command suburban. We could get all the vehicles in except the command vehicle. It was packed like a can of sardines," said Thedford Fire chief, Robert Mills. Another old building two doors to the north, was where much of their equipment was stored.
The Thedford Fire Board, which oversees the funding of the district realized the growth and efficiency for the squad was at risk three years ago. The five-member board, geographically accrued, consists of Mike Finney, south of Seneca, president, Dave Hamilton, north of Thedford, secretary/treasurer, Ray Blackford, Brownlee in Cherry Co., Shane Pettit, on the Thomas Co./McPherson Co. line south of Seneca. They began making donation requests in September 2015. The newest member Burt Wilde, in the farthest northwest corner of the district has come on during the construction phase of the new fire hall.
"We are all conservatives, wanting a cost effective, energy efficient building with enough space to expand if the need arises," explained Hamilton. "We had $650,000 as our goal, but $75,000 of that went to the architect firm, the environmental firm and the engineering firm. We could not proceed without the stamp of approval from the state fire marshal in those regulatory areas, plus a sprinkler system was required also. Any future grants could not be obtained if we had not met all the criteria."
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The site was the home of the old Morris Skelly service station and café. Those old buildings came down long ago. The land is owned by Tony and Sandy Booth. Tony manages Opheim-Booth Repair east of the fairgrounds. The couple donated the ground for the new fire hall but of course the old buried fuel tanks had to be removed and the ground deemed acceptable for building. Area contractor, Dave Masek, Masek Construction, Purdum was the winning bidder on the project. The building process took six months, with completion and dedication during the annual soup supper fundraiser held the end of October.
Funding is still being gratefully accepted at Security 1st Bank, Thedford, who also bought a 15-year bond to fund the project. "We have had over $115,000 in private donations; Farm Credit Services donated $10,000, Western NE Bank, Purdum gave us $2,500 and the Stern Foundation gave us $25,000. We have grant applications out there we have not yet heard from," stated Hamilton.
The ground was prepared by locals – among them Kort Hamilton, Thane Rodocker and Louie Herbaugh. Dave Masek was complimentary on his sub-contractors. "We tried to do as much local as possible. Cox Electric- Kim Cox, Purdum, Frye Heating, Stapleton, Sandhill Oil, Thedford, KoRoy Construction – Roy Licking, Thedford, Jackson Concrete, Hershey, Scooner Services – Kevin Benscoter, in Cherry Co., Ward Plumbing, Valentine. Help was also given by members of the district. Mills completed the communication and IT. Another helper was Kevin Hood, past Emergency Manager for Thomas Co. (now part of Sherriff Gary Eng's job description). Masek echoed the goal of building a cost effective, energy efficient hall that can house all the squad's vehicles. There are seven bays, two for the ambulances, four that houses all the other rigs. One is opened, used for servicing and such, or ready for another rig if needed. The ambulances on the east are separated by the main commons area, office, bathrooms and kitchen from the fire rigs on the west. All the bays have remote controlled garage doors, so all can leave within seconds and not minutes, vital to that golden hour of treatment. "Heaven forbid we have another massive fire like we did in 1999, but we now have a proper command facility to oversee operations," stated fire chief Mills. Other additions include a large parking lot and a water filling station for the tankers from the village water. The base was made by Mills' Dad, Jim who works at Pearson Livestock and came from an old retired KROY air-drive center pivot donated by an area rancher. The sign by the water station was made by Lyle Rath and painted at Pearson's.
Thedford is one of 391 registered firefighter associations in the state, and one of over 400 licensed ambulance services. With over three-quarters of a million acres to cover, many volunteer firefighters and EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) are needed, as well as drivers for the ambulances, but numbers are lacking, "With both squads we have over 40 volunteers." Loren Eaton, chief of the EMT side, is a paramedic, which has allowed Thedford to offer the only rural ALS (Advanced Life Support) between Grand Island and Alliance on NE Highway 2, known as the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. The district includes three-fourths of Thomas Co., ending on the west at Seneca at the Hooker Co. line, south at the Logan Co. line, east to Halsey, to the Blaine Co. line and covers approximately sixty per cent of Cherry county to the north. They also are on call if the Forest (between Thedford and Halsey) needs aid in either fighting fires or extracting injured visitors. There is an active call list of area ranchers that have spraying rigs. As been the code of the hills since the very beginning, neighbor helping neighbor is never more evident than during a prairie fire. Area ranchers with spraying rigs are generally the first on the scene, several of them on the local squad.
With two of the busiest rural routes away from I-80, (NE Hwy 2 east to west and U.S. 83, north and south) the major calls are MVA (Motor Vehicle Accidents). "In 2016 we had 38 calls, every year we average between 40 and 50 calls," explained Mills. The first call from the new fire hall occurred less than 24 hours after the squad moved to the new facility, on snowy icy roads, a train collided with a pick-up and horse trailer, the driver walked away, but the 2 horses were lost. "He was one lucky fellow."
To remain certified and to apply for and receive grants requires extensive trainings. Some of the firefighters have wildland fire training while others have structural firefighting training. Best ways to rid the grasslands of invasive red cedar is by control burns, which the firefighters assist with if called upon, or at least are on alert. Eaton offers EMT training when enough volunteers sign up for the classes, which are several months long.
The new Thedford Fire Hall is indeed progress for the area it will serve. Minutes off from answering the call of fires or accidents for the volunteer firefighters and EMTs in the Thedford Volunteer Rural Fire district is indeed progress – in the present and for the future.